'Authentic history is ... irreplaceable'

Meet Robert Fung, developer behind the new/old trapp project

Well-known developer Robert Fung is bringing his Gastown sensibilities to New West with the Trapp + Holbrook development on Columbia Street. Known for maintaining historic stock and character, Fung's company the Salient Group has taken on developing the Trapp Block - built in 1899. The Trapp + Holbrook development merges old and new with 196 homes ranging from 500 to 1,261 square feet and starting at $219,900. Previews for the Trapp+Holbrook condos will begin on Saturday. Fung tells Record readers what drew him this way and what the future holds for New West.

Niki Hope: Are there parallels between New Westminster's downtown and Gastown?

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Robert Fung: In both cases, when we started working in each area, there was a deep sense of value for the "new" homes and spaces. As both downtown New West and Gastown are fairly constrained historic urban centres, there is a limited supply of interesting properties in these districts. At one point, cities grew away from these areas, but they are now returning to them and significant growth is taking place in both centres.

NH: What attracted you to New West?

RF: I was initially attracted to the history and the significance of downtown New Westminster, and the opportunity to help facilitate an economic revitalization in the area. This opportunity was to provide great homes at incredibly affordable pricing in an exciting urban setting with the most accessible transit connections in the Lower Mainland. I was also attracted to the Trapp Block facade; one of the most beautiful in any town. Since then, I've been attracted to the people of New Westminster and the dynamic place that it's becoming once again.

NH: What were the challenges of this development?

RF: Anytime you're trying to provide great levels of affordability while also providing a high level of quality, design and integration of heritage elements, it's a very complicated process. In order to make the building truly livable - and also tie it in with the area in a sympathetic way - there are challenges technically and economically.

We faced these challenges, all this while maintaining the affordability of the homes.

NH: How do condo developments revitalize distressed neighbourhoods?

RF: The positive economic evolution of any distressed area requires economic investment. Early adopters reap the benefits of getting great value. As the neighbourhood grows, so does the value as well as the breadth and strength of the community. Investments from developments bring new homes and people, which bring pride of ownership to the community. New homes also need and attract necessities such as shops and amenities. Commercial demand follows. A positive snowball effect occurs when critical mass of activity encourages further economic growth.

NH: Is there a link between your degree in anthropology and your work as a developer?

RF: I don't believe there is a direct relationship, but I'm interested in how people live. I believe that diverse communities are stronger, and that established neighbourhoods have great energy. I've taken interest in what has been done before, and I hope that we can learn from the past and increase livability and community dynamics in the future.

NH: How do you add value to a neighbourhood?

RF: One makes a personal commitment by investing in a neighbourhood. By taking interest in a place, you're immediately adding value because it brings energy to the community. That commitment can be contagious.

NH: Where do you find inspiration?

RF: I take inspiration from a number of sources. In some cases, I find inspiration in things that aren't working or in the challenges that are faced. I find thoughtful design inspiring. I find inspiration in people's spirit and drive. For a downtown area, I find inspiration in things that have happened in other similar situations.

NH: What would you change about New West?

RF: Rather than change New West, our goal is to change peoples' perceptions about New West. We believe that The Trapp + Holbrook redevelopment will go a long way towards demonstrating why both the history and the future of downtown New West are among the most exciting in our region.

NH: How important is it to maintain a city's historic stock?

RF: Authentic history is finite and irreplaceable. There are so few real remaining areas with historic depth that they tend to carry an extraordinary value in peoples' hearts and minds. Maintaining a city's historic elements is important for civic - and sometimes even personal - identity. We continually find this as one of the great things about working with a neighbourhood that has evolved over time.

NH: What will downtown New Westminster look like in 10 years?

RF: Downtown New West in 10 years will be very socially and economically vibrant. Modern and historic buildings will complement each other in the historic downtown, and the area will be one of the most popular districts in the Lower Mainland for living and shopping because of its exciting shops, restaurants and great new homes. I think that a lot of the gaps will be filled in, but we'll also see that a lot of elements from the past will remain and remind us how great of a city New West was and is.


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