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Plans for new towers have arrived at city hall and other inquires have been made in recent months, city staff says

Bayne Stanley/The Canadian Press Images

Vancouver's office-tower boom is about to see a second wave.

Plans for two new towers arrived at city hall this week, as investors – attracted by the increasing popularity among office tenants of downtown and its proximity to transit – gear up for the next round of demand after the current crop of buildings is finished.

City staff say there have been other inquiries about office-tower proposals in recent months.

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The two new towers for which official applications are in, both on Seymour Street, would use unusual bits of space – a parkade, and a plaza in front of another tower – which also demonstrates how strong the appetite is to build.

"There's been a resurgence of demand in new-generation downtown office space," said James Midwinter, executive vice-president of development for GWL Realty Advisers. "We recognize there's already a lot of buildings under construction. We're getting ourselves ready for the next cycle."

More than half a dozen towers are under construction or about to start in Vancouver, including the Telus head-office tower at Georgia and Richards streets, the new MNP tower on Hastings Street at the former University Club site, and a tower at 745 Thurlow St.

Those towers have leased out most of their space, which has encouraged other investors.

GWL, which manages pension and investment funds, is planning to tear down the parkade near Georgia and Seymour streets behind the Scotia Tower and put in a 32-storey building.

That project, which would incorporate a new plaza on Seymour Street and a roof garden on the lower section of the two-tier building, was approved on Wednesday at the city's urban-design panel.

The city also received a rezoning application from real estate company Morguard this week for a 25-storey tower to be built on what is now a plaza at the corner of Seymour and Hastings streets, across from the city's busiest transit hub at Waterfront Station.

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"We're long-term investors and we believe in the future of Vancouver," said Geoff Nagle, director of development in Western Canada for Morguard, which holds $13-billion in assets around North America.

Both developers, in keeping with Vancouver's distinctive economy, plan to build towers with relatively small floor sizes.

Vancouver, unlike Calgary and Toronto, does not have large head-office operations that demand several floors with huge tracts of space.

"We've got lots of entrepreneurial head-office businesses, but they're small," Mr. Nagle said.

In Vancouver, as in other cities, many office tenants headed out to the suburban business parks in the late 20th century.

Construction in downtown languished, hitting an almost dead stop in the early 2000s both in Vancouver and Toronto.

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But that started changing as employers discovered how attached their workers were to getting to work by transit. In Vancouver, the transit picture got even rosier when the Canada Line opened in 2009.

Businesses that had moved to the suburbs, especially those employing young people, sometimes had to run shuttle services from downtown to get their employees to work.

Several high-profile operations, including Microsoft and the B.C. Lottery Corp., moved from Richmond to Vancouver several years ago.

For GWL, transit was both a push and a pull. Its site is above the Canada Line, and the parkade it was operating was getting less and less business.

"What we realized is that we've got a great office-development site," Mr. Midwinter said.

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About the Author
Urban affairs contributor

Frances Bula has written about urban issues and city politics in B.C.’s Vancouver region, covering everything from Downtown Eastside drug addiction to billion-dollar development projects, since 1994. More


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