Wanted: Tenants for a new and different kind of office precinct in Vancouver, steps away from the city’s two sports stadiums and only casino, and an easy scoot to its seawall along False Creek. Must be willing to pay semi-downtown prices, even though you’ll be a hefty 10 blocks away from Vancouver’s core business district.
That’s the imaginary advertisement running in the minds of a small group of developers in Vancouver as the city tries a new experiment: creating an office district where nothing existed before.
The city’s planning department, concerned about the loss of key office sites on Vancouver’s small downtown peninsula to the condo boom of the 1990s and 2000s, decided several years ago that the last bit of undeveloped former industrial land that was the site of Expo 86 – Northeast False Creek – should include 1.8 million square feet of commercial space.
Of that, 600,000 is to be dedicated to office or, as the planners call it, “job space,” packed in around Rogers Arena, the home of the Vancouver Canucks hockey team, and BC Place, the government-owned stadium where the B.C. Lions play football and Whitecaps play soccer.
That 600,000 square feet is the equivalent of a whole Park Place tower in Vancouver’s business district or the new PricewaterhouseCoopers tower on York Street in Toronto.
Now, landowners in that area are trying to figure out who they’ll get as tenants.
“We have our work cut out for us to fill that space,” says David Negrin, president of Aquilini Development, one division of the Aquilini family empire that includes the Canucks, Rogers Arena and a host of other businesses and development projects. “It’s just a tough location because it’s on the edge of the [central business district].”
Mr. Negrin’s company is the first to tackle the challenge, with three unusual towers recently approved by council that will be built in the corners of their property around the arena. The top two-thirds of the wave-like towers will be residential units that will be rentals, not condos. The bottom third will be offices.
“What we’re going to do is move all the Canucks’ offices from the arena into the tower. That will get us kick-started,” Mr. Negrin said. The family will also move all its company offices from its current site, a heritage building in the traditional downtown, into the new project.
He hopes that businesses with a sports slant or entertainment focus may gravitate to the area.
The other landowner with the biggest block to fill is Canadian Metropolitan Properties, which owns the land around the world’s fair’s old Plaza of Nations site.
Daisen Gee-Wing, like Mr. Negrin, is taking a big breath and plunging in without knowing quite what the future will bring for the space.
However, he says he has already been getting calls from companies attracted by the idea of putting their employees into an area that has a nice lifestyle, even if it’s not right in the business district.
“We’ve been approached by some software companies, because of the proximity to the seawall. They say that being around the arenas and [the future] community centre will make it easier for them to recruit,” says Mr. Gee-Wing, the company’s senior vice-president. “We’ve also been approached by some unique retailers, not from Vancouver. They like the idea of being in front of the water.”
The Canadian Metropolitan development, which is just starting the city-approvals process, created a splash recently when its design – an unusual glass building shaped like a giant arch, with a cluster of smaller towers around it – was submitted to the planning department.
Both developers are planning large floor plates of 20,000 to 40,000 square feet for the office-space components of their buildings, something that may attract the kinds of companies that need more than the typical 15,000 maximum in Vancouver’s downtown office towers.
City planners firmly believe that the precinct will become a distinct and valuable addition to the downtown office mix.
“It is going to be very different from the rest of the city,” says Kevin McNaney, the assistant director of central-area planning.
Vancouver does have some office users in two of its historic neighbourhoods near Northeast False Creek, Gastown and Yaletown, where gaming and digital designers have tended to cluster in the restored former warehouses.
But whether they will be willing to lease new and less historic and funky space is going to be tested by the Northeast False Creek precinct.
“I think it will work as a secondary market to the downtown, but it’s tough because of the access,” said Bill Elliott, who heads Avison Young’s Vancouver office-brokerage team. “I think that office space is going to be more challenged.”
And, he says, Vancouver’s downtown may eventually grow over to the new Northeast False Creek district.
Telus is building its new head office at about the midpoint between the new precinct and the old downtown. Several sites nearby are potential office locations.
“It could be like in Toronto. There was that natural barrier of the railroad tracks in the downtown, but, with the Air Canada Centre, that barrier is almost eliminated.”