One day soon, the right buyer might be found for a notorious Surrey building that has sat empty for more than two decades.
The four-storey 104 Avenue Centre, a 271,000-square-foot complex located on the Whalley/Guildford border, was constructed in 1998, but no long-term tenant has ever been found, making for something of a real-estate oddity in Surrey.
Emerson says a potential buyer was recently found, with documents signed and subjects to be removed last week, but the deal has not yet been confirmed.
“Negotiations are ongoing, they’re active,” Emerson said as he gave the Now-Leader a rare look inside the building, long a source of fascination for Surrey residents.
“We know people are very interested in this building,” Emerson added. “It’s a great building, it really is, and right now it’s good timing. The commercial market in Surrey is strong. There are people who are looking for space like this, with the underground parking here, two levels. There are almost 700 stalls down there.”
Today, the building’s long corridors of concrete floors are scattered with some piles of drywall, insulation, electrical equipment and not much else.
In the late-1990s, developers of the building originally planned for an Asian-themed “showmart” facility. Pitt, an Arizona-based lawyer who helped launch the Phoenix Suns NBA basketball team decades ago, bought the building in the mid-2000s. Building construction was completed at that time, and since then, prospective renters and/or buyers have included Fraser Health, Simon Fraser University and RCMP, but all deals eventually didn’t happen.
Potential uses pitched for the building have included banquet hall, office space, homes, restaurants, bowling alley, even an auto-sales lot on the ground floor, according to Emerson.
“We’ve rented it to movie companies on a regular basis over the years,” he noted. “I’m not a movie guy, so I don’t know what. The movie guys call me regularly.”
Anita Huberman, CEO of Surrey Board of Trade, recalls attending gala events at The Asian Centre, as the building was originally known on that stretch of 104th Avenue, between 141st and 142nd streets.
“The mayor’s ball was there, when Dianne (Watts) was mayor,” Huberman said. “They had a couple events in there, but there was no plumbing in the building so I remember they had to bring in everything at quite a cost – the heating, water, portable washrooms. The plumbing just never got done in that building.”
Among many others, Huberman has long viewed the building as an abandoned eyesore, a structure very much in need of a tenant, or tenants.
“We’ve even advocated for the City of Surrey to purchase it, but the then-Surrey City Development Corporation said their focus is on the downtown core, so there was no interest from them to revitalize that corridor, that building,” Huberman said.
“Having tenants in there would revitalize 104th Avenue, you know, and it would be so important to the future of our city, for jobs, for new businesses.
“I was on a tour of building just prior to the pandemic, and all the pipes are rusted, and whoever buys it has to put in major tenant improvements,” Huberman added. “It’s a great building and there’s lots of parking, underground, and it has so much potential, but it’s been sitting empty for so long.”
On reddit.com last year, the building was lampooned as a “#20YearChallenge” subject, with the same photo from the years 2000 and 2020.
A sales brochure posted to Cushman & Wakefield’s website said the property is being offered without a formal asking price, and that “all interested parties are encouraged to execute and return a confidentiality agreement to gain access to additional Property information including a Confidential Information Memorandum and Data Room.”
Among “salient details,” parking includes 675 underground stalls and 42 surface stalls, two full-sized loading docks and gross taxes totalling $296,627 for 2019.
Adds the listing: “The combination of significant existing improvements coupled with remarkable redevelopment potential in one of the fastest growing cities in Canada, makes the offering a unique and attractive investment and/or redevelopment opportunity.”
When built in the late-1990s, the Asian Centre involved a partner, Hank Cheng, who was among Surrey Board of Trade directors at the time, according to Huberman.
“He left and moved to China, and you know, there was a consortium of partners that built it,” she explained. “It was supposed to be an Asian Centre, like a Richmond market concept, and they had high hopes. I remember it quite well. They ran out of money and the project fell apart.”
In 2016, officials with the Surrey-based City Dream Centre organization toured 104 Avenue Centre and pitched it as a future complex to help the city’s “underprivileged and marginalized” residents get the food, clothing, job skills, health care and housing they require.
The proposed facility was modelled on Los Angeles’ Dream Center, founded in 1994 as a volunteer-driven organization that “finds and fills the needs of over 80,000 individuals and families each month,” according to its website, dreamcenter.org.
Surrey Now & Then is a weekly look back at Surrey-area landmark sites and events, and how they evolved over the years. Email story ideas and tips to email@example.com. We thank Surrey Archives for assistance with this series.