In some cases, it can take up to 20 years to complete a master-planned community, leaving large tracts of undeveloped land to sit empty for lengthy periods, said Beau Jarvis, senior vice-president of development with Wesgroup.

At River District, Wesgroup’s 128-acre master-planned community in South Vancouver, the company has been using sections of the site along the shores of the Fraser River for several uses including a Saturday farmers market, volleyball courts and a drive-in movie theatre.

When completed, the 7,000-home community will have 7.2 million sq. ft. of residential, community and commercial space, and will include a community centre, four daycares, a 25-acre park and possibly a school.

“You can have big billboards that say ‘River District, Vancouver’s largest waterfront community’, or whatever you want to call it, but really that just gets lost in the clutter of real estate advertising in Vancouver,” Jarvis said.

“So we really are striving to get people down there to create an emotional and physical connection with the area rather than reading about it somewhere,” he said.

“Most of the events have been free or sponsored by Wesgroup. Some have been pay-for events,” he said, adding that the drive-in theatre is now in its second summer, showing films for $20 per car on Saturdays and movies for free on Sundays.

“That’s been a huge success,” Jarvis said, adding that between 200 and 300 cars have shown up on some weekends. “It’s a novelty to go to a drive-in movie these days and we’ve been doing a lot of family movies. That worked out really well.”

People have been talking about the events on social media and with friends and family, Jarvis said. “That’s organic marketing and it’s starting to work.”

A similar strategy was taken last year by Concert Properties, which partnered with the creator of food business incubator called Hawkers Market to create a 2.2-acre food hub on North Vancouver’s waterfront.

Hawkers Wharf is a public market at Concert’s 12-acre Harbourside site — a four-stage master-planned community with a 15-year build-out plan.

The market will host about 25 local, independent food start-ups at a temporary cluster of converted shipping containers on the westernmost section of the development site. It will also have a bar and a communal kitchen building.

When the plans were announced, Concert told Postmedia News that the food market concept matched their vision of creating a commercial hub at the property before the homes were built.  The temporary market could eventually be folded into a permanent space at the development.

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