Lessons from Portland – Comox Mall Redevelopment

Its Friday afternoon and my phones are turned off. Most of the weeks work is done, or at least all the fires are under control, and I feel like being provocative. If you have seen my weeks postings on Facebook at “Lessons from Portland – TDA Ltd.” you will know that I was recently in Portland Oregon and I saw many examples of a city willfully getting many things right. A few of these things were discussed this week and hopefully a few more next week. For this afternoon I had to try something that used the other side of my brain.

What if we took the site of the Comox Centre Mall and redeveloped it using some of the principles from Portland, starting with block size and street width?

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The first thing you discover is that the Mall site is over 4 Portland sized city blocks in area. This little Google SketchUp exercise shows the Mall site divided into 4 city blocks with 60 foot right of ways between them. Each block is about 280′ x 280′ in size and about 80,000 sq.ft. in area (portland blocks are approximately 200′ x 200′). If you developed the blocks right out to the street edge as a rule, and developed an average of 4 storeys in building height, you would get about 1.2 million square feet of floor space. If you did a healthy mix of uses, where the ground floor was retail/commercial, and the second floor was office, you would end up with 600,000 sq.ft. of space left over for residential. At an average size of 1,000 sq.ft. per unit, this yields 600 new residential units in the downtown core.  Each lot could accommodate about 250 cars in one level of underground parking.

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You can divide these numbers up anyway you like, or add density by going higher such as the 5 storeys that the Town of Comox is promoting on the old Lorne Hotel site. However you slice it up, it looks like we have lots of room to grow right in the heart of town. I want one of the penthouses overlooking the golf course! Who else is in?

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