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The building at 1075 Barclay Street in Vancouver, left, is empty as almost all of the units were swallowed up by developers a couple of years ago.

Rafal Gerszak

Two leading Vancouver developers are selling several adjacent buildings in the city’s downtown for $105-million to a Hong Kong-based buyer, one of the biggest land deals in the region in the past two years.

In 2015 and 2016, Westbank Corp. and Bosa Properties Ltd. had independently set out to buy up units in a seven-storey condo building at 1075 Barclay and four adjacent townhomes in the city’s West End, a largely residential neighbourhood on the downtown peninsula that has seen a recent push for increased density. Together, the land at and beside 1075 Barclay could be rezoned for a tower of some 50 storeys under the City of Vancouver’s new West End Community Plan, which allows for major redevelopment on the area’s main streets.

But the rival developers couldn’t work together, or agree on a deal with each other, and instead decided to sell. The buyer is Grand World Holding Ltd. Corporate records show the entity was incorporated in the fall of 2016 and is registered at the offices of Richmond’s largest law firm, Pryke Lambert Leathley Russell LLP. Grand World has one listed director, Hong Qing Zhang, based in Hong Kong.

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Details of the Westbank-Bosa sale to Grand World were outlined in a B.C. Supreme Court decision released earlier this month. Two holdout condo owners had argued the sale price was too low. The court ruled the $105-million deal could proceed.

The court decision – as well as the array of property records connected to the sale – provide a rare look into the hidden inner workings of land assembly in Vancouver’s hot real estate market, where buyers purchase properties to lay the groundwork for larger redevelopments, aided by recent changes in the law that make it easier for owners of existing condo buildings to sell. A number of the proposed new buildings are luxury condo towers.

Firms such as Westbank and Bosa usually buy land to build on themselves. But in this case, in a market in which the price of land has jumped to extreme levels, Westbank and Bosa join a list of prominent local names such as the Toigo and Wall families, who have chosen to sell to overseas buyers in deals at more than $100-million. They all have made major gains on their investments.

In the Westbank-Bosa court decision, Justice Warren Milman noted the developers’ aim was to “reap the significant redevelopment potential of the land.”

The story of the sale of 1075 Barclay, a 36-unit condo building completed in the early 1990s, starts with the West End Community Plan, which Vancouver City Council approved in 2013 after several years of consultations. In general, the new plan allows for taller buildings on several main streets while keeping the neighbourhood’s mix of older low-rise apartment buildings relatively intact.

Bosa has made several other big moves in the area, including those with properties it is seeking to rezone for large towers. They include the 48-storey tower designed by Ole Scheeren, a well-known German architect based in Beijing, whose projects in Asia, such as the distinctive CCTV headquarters, have garnered attention.

In the summer of 2015, Bosa started to make its move at 1075 Barclay – aiming to redevelop both sides of the street. Bosa created Shepstone Investments Inc. and within about half a year had purchased six of the 36 condos at 1075 Barclay, and had started to buy the four adjacent townhomes.

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Westbank then entered the picture. It created Barclay Thurlow Property Inc. in March, 2016, and by October had bought 25 condo units at 1075 Barclay. Bosa had stopped buying condos but did gain ownership of all four adjacent townhomes.

At one point, however, the City of Vancouver, according to court documents, told the developers that the condo building alone did not have enough land to qualify for the maximum density allowed in the West End plan. Instead, the city said that would only happen if the building was paired with the townhomes.

Westbank and Bosa decided to put the properties up for sale, through broker Simon Lim at Colliers International. They signed an agreement of purchase and sale on June 27, last year, with Grand World for $105-million.

According to court and property records, Westbank and Bosa paid as much as $47-million for the properties. In fewer than three years, they have together doubled their money with the sale to Grand World.

“I didn’t buy it to speculate,” Ian Gillespie, president of Westbank, said in an e-mail.

Mr. Gillespie considered buying out Bosa, as well as a joint venture between the two companies. Mr. Gillespie suggested it was difficult for the two developers to do a deal together. Selling became an option, Mr. Gillespie said. He added that his firm had many other developments underway, in Vancouver and elsewhere.

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Colin Bosa, CEO of Bosa Properties, declined an interview request. Daryl Simpson, a Bosa executive, said in a written statement that the developer intended to build on both sides of Barclay Street.

“We were unfortunately not able to obtain absolute control over the 1075 Barclay site and were unable as a result to create a development parcel on this property,” Mr. Simpson said in his statement.

Mr. Simpson also said a sales process with broker Colliers International was chosen to “ascertain fair market value” for Bosa and Westbank.

The developers benefited from the soaring price of land in the Vancouver region. Their deal is one several large transactions on the downtown peninsula in the past several years, following the adoption of the new West End plan.

In December, the Toigo family, through their company Shato Holdings Ltd., sold about an acre of land on West Georgia Street near Stanley Park, where the Toigos have owned a White Spot restaurant since the early 1980s. According to local broker Perry Allen, who said he represented both the seller and buyer, the price was $245-million and the buyer was Carnival Group International Holdings Ltd., based in Hong Kong, whose businesses include real estate development.

In the spring of 2016, the Wall family’s Wall Financial Corp. closed a deal to sell buildings at Alberni and Nicola streets, on about an acre of land, to Asia Standard International Group Ltd. of Hong Kong and Landa Global, a new Vancouver company run by Kevin Cheung and Scott Wang, whose fathers are property developers in China.

The price was $160-million, about double the $83-million the Walls had paid two years earlier. Under the new West End plan, Landa and Asia Standard – along with ITC Properties Group Ltd. of Hong Kong – have applied for rezoning, proposing towers of 43 and 48 storeys. The architect is the well-regarded Robert Stern of New York.

While Westbank and Bosa are selling at 1075 Barclay, they are developing near the land the Walls sold. Expensive buildings are planned. One block down on Alberni, Bosa and Kingswood in January received city council approval for a 42-storey tower by the architect Mr. Scheeren. Across the street, on Alberni, Westbank finished a rezoning in February, 2017 and is working on a 43-storey tower with respected architect Kengo Kuma of Japan, who designed the 2020 Olympic stadium in Tokyo. Westbank, along with financial partner Peterson Group, the Vancouver arm of a Hong Kong development firm, bought that land in 2015 for $47-million. The lowest-priced condo was a studio for $1.1-million and two-bedrooms started at $2-million.

One more block down Alberni, at Bidwell, Westbank has applied to rezone land for a 39-storey tower designed by celebrated local architect Bing Thom, who died in 2016.

A request to interview 1075 Barclay’s new owner, Mr. Zhang of Grand World, was submitted to Mr. Zhang through the law firm Pryke Lambert Leathley Russell in Richmond. There was no response.

The law firm would not confirm whether Mr. Zhang of Grand World is the same Mr. Zhang of Guangdong New Grand Long Packing, which Bloomberg says is based near Hong Kong and makes packaging and signs for cigarettes.

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