TransLink is poised to become a major land baron earning big bucks from real estate along its transit lines.
Officials now estimate at least $30 million per year could be generated over the next 10 years from developing extra land not needed for transit into residential condos, office towers and shops.
And board chair Dale Parker says a much more aggressive revenue target of $120 to $150 million per year might be attainable.
Until now TransLink wasn't permitted to obtain land it didn't intend to use for transit purposes.
But its new enabling legislation now allows it to buy more land for development and profit.
A real estate division has been established and Phil Christie, a former provincial government land manager, was hired last fall as TransLink's vice-president of real estate.
"We're still in the very early days for development of this strategy," said spokesman Ken Hardie.
TransLink's land branch has so far focused on buying land for the Canada Line and Golden Ears Bridge, and lining up some land it will actually need to build the Evergreen Line to Coquitlam, but not extra property for development.
It's also looking for a site to relocate the Burnaby Transit Centre, which can no longer hold enough buses.
TransLink will be coy about where it wants to buy land – lest prices rise – but major corridors earmarked for future rapid transit lines in the Tri Cities, Surrey and West Broadway in Vancouver are considered prime targets for its realtors.
Hardie suggested easily $1.5 billion worth of development has sprung up immediately around Millennium Line SkyTrain stations since that route was built.
If the public is making the investment in rapid transit, he said, it should also grab a piece of the ensuing land development action and the resulting profit to help pay for the system.
"We know those stations will attract development," Hardie said.
There are also major pieces of existing TransLink property that could be redeveloped, including certain park-and-ride lots across Metro Vancouver.
Hardie said the park-and-ride at Coquitlam Centre is a very large parcel that could be a top contender for development.
"Right now, it's one dimensional – it's blacktop used to store vehicles," he said. "The opportunity to take that and do something more with it – perhaps high density residential or commercial – is there of course."
It's not impossible TransLink could build straight up into the air above some existing SkyTrain stations.
And major upgrades of the Broadway, Main Street and Metrotown SkyTrain stations now on the horizon may be examined for redevelopment potential, Hardie added.
High-density residential development near stations led by TransLink is also expected to boost the number of people living with easy access to transit, improving ridership over the long term.
Hardie said TransLink's board first needs to approve a strategy to move forward with more aggressive land development.