Like Vancouver west-side homeowners cashing in on current soaring prices, the owners of coveted commercial real estate in the city centre are taking advantage of the sellers' market.
The Molson brewery, which sits on a large tract of land next to Vancouver's Burrard Bridge, has just put its property on the market. At the same time, Ivanhoé Cambridge has put the four Bentall office towers – the core of the city's business district for decades – up for sale.
And local brokers say many other owners are considering selling.
The four Bentall towers are assessed at $810-million. The Molson property, just across the water from the downtown, is assessed at $34-million. Both will likely go for much more.
"Today, there's a lot of money in the system. People want hard assets and Vancouver is safe," said Hendrik Zessel, senior managing director at the commercial brokerage firm Cushman & Wakefield.
Maury Dubuque, managing director at Colliers International, said anyone with commercial real estate in Vancouver's rising market is at least pondering the advantages of selling at what might be a peak.
"There's a lot of discussions in a lot of boardrooms throughout Vancouver on real estate strategy," said Mr. Dubuque, whose firm is in discussions with a number of companies he didn't want to name. "Many of our clients are having those conversations."
Unlike Vancouver's expensive housing market, the commercial market is not just about offshore money, he said. "Certainly there's offshore, but there are pension funds, REITS, private equity."
Vancouver has seen an unprecedented boom in office-tower building downtown over the past three years, with more than a dozen under construction or in the planning stages. That boom occurred even though some buildings had only a small amount of space preleased or no tenants at all before construction started.
A spokesman for Ivanhoé Cambridge in Montreal, Sébastien Théberge, said the company was putting a valuable asset such as the Bentall towers on the market because the time is right.
"There is great appetite from global institutional investors for core assets in key cities and there is limited inventory that is accessible. Bentall Centre offers a centre-ice location, long-term value and opportunity for more development," he said.
Ivanhoé, a private real estate company whose major investors include Quebec credit unions, owns more than $35-billion in real estate around the world and has a number of other holdings in British Columbia, including the Oakridge shopping mall, which is spending $1-billion to redevelop as a massive mixed-use project.
Great West Life is a partner with Ivanhoé, holding a minority share in the Bentall towers. A co-owner would usually be offered the chance to buy the asset first, so seeing the towers go on the market has surprised some brokers.
Mr. Théberge said Great West "was made aware of our intentions before going to market."
Molson Coors Canada announced last year that it was going to discontinue its beer-bottling operations as of March, although it is still producing beer in cans and kegs. But now the site is on the market.
"Molson Coors has decided to evaluate the current market for the potential sale of the site and relocation of the brewery," said Jennifer Kerr, a company spokeswoman in Ontario.
She said the brewery continues operating until the company can find a new site and build a more modern facility.
For city planners, there is no issue if commercial landowners sell and want to add more development to their sites where possible.
In the case of Molson, it's a different story.
Vancouver's general manager of planning, Brian Jackson, said the land was designated as an industrial area in the regional growth strategy plan only three years ago.
"We have told all potential purchasers that they should purchase the property based on industrial land values," he said. "Anything beyond that is pure speculation."