Archive for May, 2005

High-end rental apartment

Sunday, May 29th, 2005

REAL ESTATE: With everyone building condos, high-end apartments just seemed right

Wendy Mclellan
Province

CREDIT: Wayne Leidenfrost, The Province Harry Sengara takes a call in an Arbutus Atrium apartment.

Rental construction has not been exactly at the top of the list for Vancouver property developers of late.

With condominium projects as ubiquitous as corner coffee shops, and selling as fast as a latte, developers have opted to make money selling their projects.

But three Vancouver brothers are convinced the city is ready for a high-end apartment building, purpose-built for the rental market.

“We think there’s a real niche for this type of thing, but we are going opposite to the market,” said Harry Sengara, who owns the 43-unit building with brothers Sonny and Karnil. “My wife thought I was nuts, and I wasn’t sleeping for a while. But it seems to be working.

“I spent two years doing the research — I didn’t want to build an albatross,” Sengara said. “We could have built it, sold the units and that would be the end of it, but we wanted something for our children that would generate cash flow after we’re dead and gone. We’re in this for the long term.”

The brothers, who were born and raised on the west side — and still live there have just completed the Arbutus Atrium on West 12th Avenue and Arbutus. Despite the high rents, 18 of the suites are already spoken for.

The two-bedroom units rent for $1,750 or more and rents for the three-bedroom suites start at $2,500. All of the spacious apartments are finished with granite countertops in the kitchens, Italian tiles and in-suite laundry facilities.

The family owns a lumber company in Richmond as well as several rental buildings, but had never developed property before. They owned the office building on West 12th Avenue at Arbutus for about 10 years before deciding to bulldoze the aging building and develop the apartment complex.

“I think Vancouver is ready for this kind of thing, and it will only get better,” Sengara said. “A lot of people come here to educate their kids and they want a safe building. There are also a lot people coming to B.C. who will rent for a couple of years and then buy a place, and there are people who would rather ride their bikes on Saturday than cut the lawn.

Vancouver is only going to get bigger.”

Despite chronically low vacancy rates — about 1.1 per cent — in the Lower Mainland’s rental market, few developers are willing to invest in purpose-built rental apartments, said Cameron Muir, senior market analyst for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. “There was a little spike in 2001, but that was because condos weren’t selling and developers did some rentals and seniors’ housing,” Muir said.

“In this market, it’s just not economically feasible. Flush developers can outbid on the land and there’s no way purpose-built rental apartments can compete with these land costs.”

The agency predicts vacancy rates will remain well below two per cent, although there may be a few more units available later this year as first-time homebuyers move into their newly completed condos and investors get their new units into the rental pool. But at the same time, Muir said more people are moving to B.C., which will keep vacancy rates low.

With condo prices in Vancouver continuing to soar, developer Grosvenor Canada Ltd. is reconsidering its plan to retain ownership of the 92 townhouses in a new retail/residential project to add to the city’s rental pool.

“It’s very hard to develop rental at this point,” said Ryan Beechinor, senior vice-president of the company developing The Rise on Cambie Street and 8th Avenue in Vancouver.

“You’re leaving $100 a square foot on the table if you don’t go the condo route. We’re still watching, but the spread is getting wider.”

He said the project won’t be completed until the fall of 2007, so the firm still has time to decide. Meanwhile, the one-bedroom units, zoned as artist live-work residences, are already set up so they can be switched to strata title.

Al Kemp, CEO of the Rental Owners and Managers Association of B.C., said many people would rather rent than own, but only a handful of rental apartment complexes have been built in the city during the past 20 years.

“Five or six or eight years ago, you wouldn’t attract people to high-end rentals, but now you can,” Kemp said. “Some people don’t want to own, or they’re putting their money into a chalet at Whistler, or a sailboat.”

ACCOMMODATING RENTALS

- The number of purpose-built rental units in the Lower Mainland has barely changed in the last decade, increasing just 1.4 per cent (1,542 units) since 1994.

- The average vacancy rate in Vancouver last year was 1.3 per cent, compared with two per cent in 2003.

- Most suburbs have vacancy rates below two per cent, but there are exceptions. In 2004, Surrey‘s vacancy rate was 5.1 per cent and Delta’s was 4.1 per cent, according to a CMHC report. While the numbers are higher than other municipalities, they are near historic lows.

- West Vancouver has the highest rents in the Lower Mainland at an average of $1,166 a month. In Vancouver, rents averaged $863 per month.

- The lowest average rents were recorded in Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows, where a bachelor suite rents for $513, compared with $796 for a bachelor unit in Kitsilano.

© The Vancouver Province 2005

Esse Garden Homes – UBC

Sunday, May 29th, 2005

COVER: Sweep down that staircase in your ballgown

Jeani Read
Province

What can you do with 1,200 square feet? Esse Garden Homes, a new 32-unit condo development at University of B.C., has a two-bedroom display unit that shows what a few well-chosen design tricks plus a dedication to deluxe finishing can do to enlarge and enhance a relatively modest space. PHOTO BY WAYNE LEIDENFROST — THE PROVINCE

CREDIT: Wayne Leidenfrost, The Province A sense of graciousness and luxury carries through with details that are class, not crass

CREDIT: Wayne Leidenfrost, The Province Stainless appliances, warm brown granite are standard in the kitchen, while extra high ceilings throughout give a real sense of space.

CREDIT: Wayne Leidenfrost, The Province All the hardware, from cabinet pulls to faucets, is gorgeous while hardwood, tile and carpet are luxe and smartly chosen.

It’s all smoke and mirrors at Esse out at UBC, where some really smart space wizards have been at work.

Not only have they maximized the existing room (everyone takes a shot at that) but they’ve made some genius design moves that actually fool you into feeling these homes are larger than they are, using every trick in the book and a few new ones.

Strangely, we had to agree for once with the sales staff on this one: it’s definitely hard to believe that the display home is only 1,212 square feet. Amazing what nine-foot ceilings, overheight eight-foot doors and windows everywhere and frosted light walls in the places left (including on the upstairs deck level) can do for your sense of graciousness and luxury.

Then there are — and this is real cunning — the four-foot wide stairways. These transform an ordinary entry stair (from front door to living room) from a slightly claustrophic climb into a pleasant ascent without the visitor really noticing what is going on at first. Why does it feel so nice coming in here? And between the main and upstair bedroom floor, accentuated by open railings, the Cinderella effect is even better.

Heck, these places are not cheap so they may as well have a bit of the palace built in. Wear your ballgown, sweep down the stairway. Carry that breakfast tray up in style. You get it. Very ingenious, wasting a bit of space for a wider stair to create the illusion of so much more.

That said, the rest of the display home also shows off tons of attractive can’t-live-without-them features. All subtle and lowkey, they’re details that wow with class, not crass. In the main floor powder room, a beautiful deep vessel sink you just immediately want to take home; tasteful but not too trendy subway tile for the kitchen backsplash; gas range and designer one-and-a-half sink; stainless and warm brown granite standard; deck on the main floor, deck upstairs, with natural gas hookup for barbecues on the balcony; study space bright with natural light at the bottom of the stairs.

And when you get to the top floor — look out. First on the left is a smaller second bedroom outfitted with a daybed (so up-to-the-minute) with its own great little bathroom with an almost-round chubby-tubby-type soaker tub, a suite unto itself for guests or kids with deck beyond. And to the right, the master bedroom — nothing spectacular, at first, but wait. A decent-size walk-in cupboard, good. And beyond that, another excellent surprise: a superb master ensuite with glass-enclosed shower, rectangular undermount sink and a soaker tub that looks out through two windows at the building corner. Perfect? Pretty close.

All the hardware at Esse, from cabinet pulls to faucetry, is gorgeous, carpeting luxe, upgrade hardwood smart, tile in bath and kitchens discreet and understated — it’s a real delight, with a two-acre park planned right across the way.

When you factor in the huge charm of living on campus with its ever-increasing number of amenities, its culture and sports venues, gardens , beautiful aspect and views and sweet commute to town, it becomes pretty clear why these homes are being snapped up as quickly as they are. Only a few select spots remain.

Enjoy.

QUICK FACTS

WHAT: Esse is 23 condominiums at UBC

WHERE: 1863 Wesbrook Mall

DEVELOPED BY: Wesbrook Projects

SIZES: Two-bedroom-andstudy; three-bedroom-and-den; from 1,212 sq. ft. -1,629 sq. ft.

PRICES: $494,900 -$669,900

© The Vancouver Province 2005

 

L’hermitage, Richards & Robson – Millennium’s newest development

Saturday, May 28th, 2005

DOWNTOWN VANCOUVER I Air conditioning, overheight ceilings also set L’Hermitage apart:

Michael Sasges
Sun

STUART DAVIS /VANCOUVER SUN The claim to presence, luxury and taste at L’hermitage will include kitchens supplied by European and high-end domestic manufacturers and a lobby furnished from Giorgio Armani’s home collection. That’s Sarah Yada Seto in the showhome kitchen and (left to right) Kathy Stilwell, Susan Chow, Frances Sung and Victoria Farrell of the L’hermitage sales staff on an Armani Casa sofa. The floor-plate model cost $88,000 to build, Bob Rennie reports. To move one wall in it costs as much as moving one wall in a real home, he adds. Floor-plate repetition is key to the construction economies that permit Millennium to offer the L’hermitage homes at about $500 a square foot, not a luxury price downtown.

CREDIT: Stuart Davis, Vancouver Sun The claim to presence, luxury and taste at L’hermitage will include kitchens supplied by European and high-end domestic manufacturers and a lobby furnished from Giorgio Armani’s home collection. That’s Sarah Yada Seto in the showhome kitchen and (left to right) Kathy Stilwell, Susan Chow, Frances Sung and Victoria Farrell of the L’hermitage sales staff on an Armani Casa sofa. The floor-plate model cost $88,000 to build, Bob Rennie reports. To move one wall in it costs as much as moving one wall in a real home, he adds. Floor-plate repetition is key to the construction economies that permit Millennium to offer the L’hermitage homes at about $500 a square foot, not a luxury price downtown.

L’HERMITAGE EN VILLE

Showhome address: 688 Richards, at Georgia, Vancouver

Showhome hours: 12 p.m. – 6 p.m., Sat – Thu

Telephone: 604-605-1118

Email: [email protected]

Project size: 32 storeys, 203 apartment residences and penthouses

Residence size: Apartments, about 650 – 1,550 sq.ft

Prices: One bedroom, from $348,000; +den, from $398,000; two bedrooms, from $434,000; +den, from $524,000; three bedrooms, from $1.029 million; penthouses, from $1.66 million

Developer: Millennium Robson Homes Ltd.

Architect: Gomberoff Bell Lyon Architects Group Inc. and Lawrence Doyle Architect Inc.

Web: www.kigloo.com/lhvancouver

“The fins are off the Cadillac.” The speaker is Bob Rennie; the subject, the latest collaboration between the real-estate agent and the Millennium Group, the L’hermitage en ville tower-residences at Robson and Richards in downtown Vancouver.

This model year’s “Eldorado” is larger than Bob Rennie has been selling, he reports, and is more voluminous than much of the competing product, with ceiling heights approaching nine feet in most homes.

Air conditioning and German cabinetry, appliances and plumbing fixtures are standard. Italian furniture will grace the L’hermitage lobby.

Additionally, this “Eldorado” features after-sales “services” that will complement the ‘hood. There will be a grocery, operator to be named. And there will be affordable rental accommodation, owned and operated by the City of Vancouver.

About the almost 50 rental suites, Rennie comments: ” … what was once the site of two forgotten hotels and some very, very rundown living environment could either be next to our new tower or we could say, ‘Let’s go deal with it.’ I think Millennium was extremely progressive in … replacing them with 47 shiny new units and handing them over to the city.

“It was a real collaboration between [city hall] and Millennium. It’s the future.”

About the grocery negotiations, Rennie comments: “You can’t live downtown and buy your groceries at, eat at, Holt Renfrew.

“You need milk and bread and the developer is current negotiating with IGA Marketplace. And if it’s not IGA Marketplace it’s going to be another food store.”

Jimmy Pattison and Millennium (maybe!) … city hall and Millennium

Bob Rennie and Millennium (a collaboration that goes back a decade). Any other partnerships contributing to the construction of L’hermitage en ville?

How about Inform Interiors and Millennium?

“There are many partnership opportunities available in Vancouver, with many different people, and there’s no reason to work with anything but the best,” Inform’s Nancy Bendtsen says of the latest collaboration between Millennium and her company.

Millennium, its designers, BBA Design Consultants’ Sharon Bortolotto and Merike Lainvool, and its marketer, Rennie Marketing, are “the best that there is in Vancouver.”

“At Inform Interiors, we’ve been around for more than 45 years, always editing the best collection of contemporary design available from around the world. We believe passionately in the power of good design to improve our lives.”

Partnership between a developer and a high-end retailer have been done before in Vancouver, with the introduction of middle-class home-owners into a neighbourhood the strategic outcome sought.

Designer-furniture store Oni-One of Toronto has twice provided interior designs for Intracorp, first at its UNO project at 11th and Kingsway, Vancouver, and, more recently, at its Centrepoint project , Metrotown Centre, Burnaby.

Additionally Oni-One will anchor the retail presence in UNO, its first store on the West Coast.

Inform’s contribution to the L’hermitage homes includes Eggersmann cabinetry and Dornbracht plumbing fixtures, both from Germany, in the kitchens and bathrooms and Armani Casa furniture, from Italy, in the eventual lobby and current presentation centre.

As contribution, they merit consideration as surety of the developer’s intention to sell not just homes at L’hermitage, but delivery the promise, in the project’s sales literature, of “luxury, presence, taste.”

“Presence” is the sharpened teeth on that old real-estate saw, location, location, location, Bob Rennie acknowledges, the file used the Robson Street address of the project.

“It’s lifestyle, on Robson, and how does L’hermitage intrude, fit in, expand on that.

“I think it’s looking at the . . . tower, and how it’s going to affect Robson, and then stepping back the tower.

“We took it back off Robson so it wasn’t a huge intrusion. But there are not a lot of residential addresses on Robson. So that’s the presence that we’re after . . .

“Then taking [the project] to the style level that Robson demands . . . when you say Robson there’s always an implied warranty that goes along with it. So how do we be part of that presence, of the Robson lifestyle. And that’s what you see, the designer kitchen, the designer bathroom, the Armani Casa.”

The associations and affiliations and attachments evoked in the L’hermitage design and marketing could be evoked by men and women with less history in these parts then Rennie or the Malek family, Millennium’s owners, Rennie says, but not necessarily with requisite finesse.

“You could with research, but there’s a larger chance of error by, maybe, over catering to Robson,” he says.

“It’s those fine differences between what a Yaletown demographic wants, what a Coal Harbour demographic wants, what a Concord Pacific demographic wants, what Robson wants. Robson is downtown. It’s urban; it’s really urban.

“So we put in this unbelievable kitchen in a 600-square-foot suite knowing that the buyer may never eat in the suite. But people want that piece of furniture called a kitchen.”

There will be people in the building, by the way, who won’t want a kitchen ever. They will be the guests of the small hotel Millennium is planning for the building.

© The Vancouver Sun 2005

Boom won’t last: Emerson – doc.

Saturday, May 28th, 2005

CHAMBER SPEECH I B.C. must invest today’s dividends to ensure future competitiveness, industry minister says

Derrick Penner
Sun

British Columbians must invest dividends earned from the current resource boom in key sectors to keep their competitive economic edge and not be lulled into thinking business will stay on its rosy upswing, federal Industry Minister David Emerson told a B.C. Chamber of Commerce audience Friday.

Emerson, speaking at the chamber’s annual general meeting at the Harrison Hot Springs resort, said government and business must work on improving the province’s transportation links, its use of technology and on building what he called competitive “clusters” of business activity around key growth industries to attract increasingly “footloose” human and investment capital.

“We need to get our mind off the fact everything is going well because we’re in a commodity boom, and start thinking in terms of what competitive advantages we can generate … using the wealth that’s being created by the commodity cycle,” Emerson said in a telephone interview after the speech.

The advantages, he added, need “to endure over the business cycle and through the booms and busts.”

Emerson said governments are doing their part with initiatives such as the Pacific gateway strategy, which has brought investment to the Port of Prince Rupert and discussion about improving financing options for the Port of Vancouver.

He added that B.C. gets tremendous benefits from transportation corridors that “just happen to be passing through,” but more could be done to link businesses within B.C. to that infrastructure.

Technology — such as access to broadband Internet and advanced communications — is another area where Emerson would like to see more attention paid.

He added that cities and regions also need to encourage the creation of business clusters where research, suppliers and often competitors are gathered around common activity.

“If you combine synergistic clusters with conectedness of communications and transportation conectedness, and you have three very powerful locational levers,” to attract new investment.

Emerson had no offers of new funding to bring to the Chamber of Commerce meeting. He said his “call to action” was for the chamber members to become more aggressive about defining positions and initiatives they can advocate for government’s next budget cycles.

© The Vancouver Sun 2005

Two Harbour Green – for the rich

Thursday, May 26th, 2005

Top-floor views have multimillion-dollar price tags

Ashley Ford
Province

CREDIT: Les Bazso, The Province Two Harbour Green’s Lily Korstanje relaxes in the display kitchen of the condo development’s $7.25-million penthouse

Vancouver has become a happy property-hunting ground for the rich, if not the necessarily famous, of this world. There’s already a list of interested international clients lining up for ASPAC Developments Ltd.’s $7.2-million, 5,800-square foot penthouse in Two Harbour Green on Coal Harbour.

The development won’t even get into the ground until August but, says sales director Lily Korstanje, the sumptuous palace already is getting the attention of the international set. “We have already had interest from both Canadian — 70 per cent — and offshore clients,” she said yesterday.

The project, officially opened for sale yesterday, has potential clients from the U.S., U.K., The Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Mexico and Asia pre-registered.

If the penthouse sells for the asking price, it would set a price record. But not for long.

There are others on the drawing board that will come to market even more highly priced. Rarified as the market is for this type of product, Vancouver is clearly on the map, says Bob Rennie of Rennie Marketing Systems.

Rennie holds the current price record for a penthouse — $6.9 million — in the neighbouring Shaw Tower on the waterfront.

“Both Shangri-La and Two Harbour Place will look like bargains in 10 years time,” Rennie said.

In One Harbor Green, another ASPAC development nearing completion on the harbour, the penthouse fetched $6.02 million. And the 190-metre Shangri-La tower — the city’s highest building — now under construction is about to put a 5,100-square-foot penthouse, complete with its own pool and a 3,000-square-foot deck, on the market for $7.4 million.

With a walk-in closet larger than most downtown condos Two Harbour Green is a fantastic living space by anyone’s measure.

Apart from a spectacular harbor and mountain view, Two Harbour Green has every bell and whistle imaginable, right down to a virtual golf centre. Any course in the world is merely an electronic click away.

It is a living space with top shelf appliances and fittings. The kitchen, with its Snaidero and Miele appliances, comes with a steaming oven and a built-in automatic coffee system that can deliver up five types of coffee at the touch of a button.

There are another 71 apartments between 2,400 and 3,600 square feet with a starting price of $1.7 million.

Last year, 1,049 properties reached the magic million-dollar mark, according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. So far this year, 522 properties have been sold for more than $1 million.

- – -

PENTHOUSE LIVING

While buyers jealously guard their privacy, these are the most expensive top-floor sales recorded by the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver:

- $6.9 million in Shaw Tower on the Vancouver waterfront

- $6.02 million in One Harbour Green, Coal Harbor

- $5.4 million in south Vancouver‘s Kingswood development

- $4.53 million Shangri-La tower in downtown Vancouver

- $4.5 million in Coal Harbour

- $4.1 million in Kitsilano

In addition, flamboyant Belgian actor Jean-Claude Van Damme purchased a whole floor in the Shaw Tower, converting it into one living space at an estimated $4 million plus.

© The Vancouver Province 2005

Unbuilt condos shoot into the $7-million bracket

Thursday, May 26th, 2005

High-end luxury housing market keeps going higher

Fiona Anderson
Sun

VICTOR BONDEROFF/VANCOUVER SUN Artists’ renderings of Coal Harbour’s Two Harbour Green with Shangri-La.

There’s a race for top spot brewing in Vancouver‘s high-end luxury condominium market where two as-yet unbuilt projects have units with asking prices in excess of $7 million.

Realtors selling the penthouse suite at Two Harbour Green, the latest development in Coal Harbour, are asking $7.25 million.

Bob Rennie, marketer of a 5,200-square-foot condo on the top floor of the under-construction Shangri-La at Georgia and Thurlow, has that unit listed for $7.4 million.

Both, if sold, would become the highest-priced condominiums ever to clear the market. The previous record of $6.9 million was for a 41st-floor unit in the Shaw Tower last July.

Rennie thinks both properties could sell within three to six months, but won’t speculate on which will go first.

“One buyer has the services of a hotel, and the other buyer has the seawall,” Rennie said in an interview.

At Harbour Green, buyers are lined up to take a look at the 5,800-square-foot three-bedroom plus den suite with its own 4,000-square-foot roof-top deck.

Ten people have so far shown interest in the penthouse, said the project’s marketer, George Wong of MacDonald Realty Platinum Project Marketing.

Malcolm Hasman, a realtor who sells high-end luxury real estate, thinks the penthouse at that price will go quickly.

“To be right on the waterfront in the premium building on the prestigious Coal Harbour, in Canadian funds [that] is not a lot of money,” Hasman said in an interview.

He thinks the buyer of the penthouse at Two Harbour Green could come from outside the country. He sells about 60 homes a year in the $1-million-plus market, and more than half of his sales are to people who are not from B.C., he said.

“Most of the people that I am working with — high net-worth international people — even at the levels we are seeing now at $1,000 per foot in Coal Harbour … they still do not see that as overpriced at an international level,” he said.

The equivalent penthouse in New York would cost $30 million to $50 million, Hasman said; a townhouse in the Knob Hill area of San Francisco could cost as much as $25 million US.

“Our prices may be high to us, but they are not high on an international level.”

Wong expects half of the 71 units in Two Harbour Green to be bought as recreational properties by people who want to spend a few months a year in Vancouver.

“People are acquiring more and more recreational properties globally,” Wong said in an interview. “Vancouver is totally on the shopping map of recreational travellers.”

The property is hot because demand for Coal Harbour waterfront is high, and supply is limited. Only one more fully residential tower, Three Harbour Green, will be built in the area.

“This is a very finite product,” Wong said in an interview. “There won’t be any more of these. So it’s like a collector’s item.”

Two Harbour Green is the second of three towers being built by Aspac Developments Ltd. in Coal Harbour and is expected to be completed in 2008. Other units will range from 2,400 to 3,600 square feet and all units will contain top-of-the line lighting, appliances, and kitchens with a built-in espresso machine and a steamer oven. One Harbour Green, is expected to be ready for occupancy before the end of the year.

Already 30 units worth more than $75 million have been sold,with no public showings, Wong said, — to people who had been invited to individual sneak previews. The first “public” showing is Saturday by invitation only. To be invited, an interested buyer must pay a $10,000 appointment fee Wong calls a “qualifying mechanism.”

“That’s our assurance that these are fairly serious people,” Wong said.

This amount is refunded to non-buyers and goes toward the deposit if the person chooses to buy.

HEADING FOR NEW HEIGHTS?:

Two condos are listed at potentially record-breaking prices in Vancouver:

The penthouse at Coal Harbour‘s Two Harbour Green ($7.25 million), and Georgia Street‘s Shangri-La ($7.4 million)

CONDO-MANIA:

Here are some record-setting prices for Vancouver condos sold through the MLS system:

July 2004

$6.9 million: Shaw Tower, 41st floor

December 2002

$5.45 million: Shaw Tower penthouse

March 2005

$4.535 million: The Edgewater

June 2002

$4.5 million: Penthouse, 1717 Bayshore Dr.

© The Vancouver Sun 2005

Streets open to two-way traffic – doc.

Tuesday, May 24th, 2005

Commuter routes hurt with better access to homes, businesses

Glenda Luymes
Province

 

CREDIT: Jason Payne, The Province

Signs remind drivers that Beatty is one the streets that now has two-way traffic.

 

Expect minor traffic delays through Yaletown today as drivers get used to three streets that were changed from one-way to two-way traffic over the weekend.

Sections of Homer, Cambie and Beatty Streets became two-way on Saturday morning.

The changes are part of the city’s transportation plan to improve access to downtown homes and businesses.

“Two-way gives the area a more local feel, as opposed to one-ways that have a more commuter-route feel,” said city transportation engineer Doug Louie.

Three Gastown streets opened to two-way traffic last year. After some initial congestion, traffic stabilized.

“There’s always a risk of more accidents during the adjustment period, but it should even out,” said Louie. “Traffic will be redistributed. We’re not reducing the capacity of the streets.”

Despite directional signs that will remain until summer’s end, some drivers yesterday seemed confused.

“It’s crazy,” said Duane Bradley. “There are little signs everywhere. It takes a while to get used to it.”

Mary Liu agreed, saying she saw a car turn in to the wrong lane and almost caused an accident.

“I think the changes are good if you don’t know the city — if you’re from outside Vancouver or a tourist,” she said. “But if you know the city, it can be pretty confusing.”

Cab driver Kuldip Bhatti said the changes make his job easier.

“It’s good for me,” he said. “To pick up customers, I won’t have to go around the block so many times.”

Reaction among Yaletown business owners was mixed.

“There isn’t much parking around here,” said Naman Wiesel at Cafe O. “Most of our business is walk-by, so I’m not sure if it will change too much.”

Severio Gallo, owner of Yaletown Gelato, was more optimistic.

“I like the idea that there will be more traffic coming by, but I don’t know yet if we’ll see more customers,” he said.

© The Vancouver Province 2005

Vancouver Trade & Convention Centre dilemma

Saturday, May 21st, 2005

You can’t please everyone. But the controversy-mired convention centre expansion proposed for the foot of Burrard Street must satisfy a great many people — not least of all, the city’s residents

Frances Bula
Sun

VANCOUVER SUN – The convention centre expansion under construction: Vancouver is about to see the last of its old working harbour disappear. In its place will be the final piece of the new city.

The newest artist’s drawing of the expansion project, incorporating recent design changes

One hundred and fifty years ago, the stretch of shore on Burrard Inlet east of Stanley Park was a tranquil place that the Squamish, Tsleil’wauthuth and Musqueam visited only occasionally. A solitary person standing among the marshy reeds would have heard no more than this: A gull squealing far overhead, a fish splashing, waves lapping quietly.

Today, the sonic booms of piledrivers make the ground shudder throughout the city’s central business district. Graders and trucks growl and grunt atop the gravel, re-shaping the harbour. And the gulls are drowned out by the yodelling of construction workers.

Vancouver is about to see the last of its old working harbour disappear, this place at the foot of Burrard and Thurlow that has been home over the past 125 years to a fish-oil plant (until the herring disappeared from the inlet in 1884), a coalyard, a cow farm run by a trio of greenhorns, rail lines, a customs house, a steamship wharf and a marina for harbour-cruise ships.

Rising in its place will be the final piece of the new Vancouver.

In the next three years, the 4.5 hectares at the foot of Burrard and Thurlow streets — the last empty piece of waterfront between Stanley Park and Canada Place – will be transformed in a way that’s difficult for most people to envision.

The transformation will create a 1.2-hectare urban public plaza, the kind of massive public gathering space this city has never had before. It will put a gargantuan building on the waterfront with an 11-storey glass wall at its highest corner, a building that will more than triple the space of the current convention centre. It will create a 2.4-hectare “living roof” that draws inspiration from a remote island on the B.C. coast. It’s aiming to create a Granville Island-style atmosphere with restaurants, shops, museums and water-oriented businesses. And it will complete the re-branding of Vancouver‘s waterfront, dispelling the last of remnants of its 19th-century colonial resource-town past soaked in creosote and diesel fumes and the stink of herring, to a 21st-century urban entertainment and leisure zone.

None of this is happening easily, though.

No major city construction project is ever a walk in the park, as anyone knows who has ever followed the tortuous trail that leads from Vancouver city hall’s Committee Room 1 to the bank to the concrete mixer to the opening ceremony — as B.C. Supreme Court’s numerous multi-defendant, post-construction lawsuits will attest.

But this project has generated an unusual level of debate and tension between the city’s powerful planning department, which has a couple of decades of experience of successfully arm-wrestling major developers to get the buildings, public spaces, and parks they think the city deserves, and the equally powerful Vancouver Convention Centre Expansion Project team.

Project manager Russ Anthony says the building, which wraps the inner core of convention activities in an outer box of clear glass, is a landmark, one that Vancouverites will come to love for its accessibility and unique B.C. features. And even critics are enthusiastic about some parts of the project, especially the landscape design and the idea of the living roof.

But the reactions to the building and certain other parts of the project from almost everyone who cares about architecture and urban design in the city ranges from resigned acceptance to bewilderment to outrage.

Former Vancouver city planning director Ray Spaxman — the man who led the way 30 years ago to transforming Vancouver’s downtown into today’s dynamic, livable urban core that is regarded with envy by urban planners around the world — calls it “this monster on our waterfront.”

Vancouver‘s head of central-area planning, Larry Beasley, city councillor Jim Green, and pre-eminent city architect James Cheng, who designed the nearby Shaw Tower and the yet-to-be-built 600-foot Shangri-La on Georgia, say the building is not the landmark that everyone had hoped for.

“It doesn’t have to defer to Canada Place,” says Cheng. “It could be its equal. And this building is just one large overall form that isn’t broken down enough so that people can relate to it.”

And the city’s urban-design panel has given it the most lukewarm of approvals.

Besides the building itself, critics are concerned that the project developers have farmed out a key component — the development of the Granville Island-style cluster of commercial and public activities along the waterfront edge and on the water — to private bidders. With the bidding about to close, there are questions being raised about who will actually come forward able or willing to carry out such an ambitious, expensive project.

They’re worried about the project managers’ apparent lack of interest in ensuring that the whole project gives Vancouverites, not just conventioneers, the kinds of public access and activities that have come to be seen as a birthright in this city. And everyone is concerned about how the fixation on staying on budget is affecting the project.

Anthony, an affable but no-nonsense guy who has driven through projects like GM Place and the B.C. Cancer Research Centre on time and on or under budget, says some complaints are inevitable because he has to try to please a whole spectrum of groups: the city, Tourism Vancouver, the provincial government, residents, environmental and fisheries regulators, convention planners. That’s without even mentioning minor considerations like the engineering complexity of building a centre set on a massive underwater concrete platform that sits on 1,000 piles driven into the seabed, or the fact that the city is in the middle of a crisis of escalating construction costs for every project.

“A project like this could be endless,” says Anthony. “We will never satisfy everybody on everything.”

And, he adds, he can’t act like the private developers the city usually deals with.

“There are things that people have wanted where we’ve said, ‘That’s just too expensive or it’s unnecessary.’ We’re funded by a number of governments and we’ve got a fixed budget. We don’t have the luxury of saying, ‘Well, I’ll just charge more for my apartment building rents and therefore I can do whatever anybody wants me to do.’ We have to go back and say, ‘Is this justifiable, is this a prudent use of public funds?’”

Vancouver‘s history with convention centres has always had a flavour of economic and architectural melodrama.

It took years of tussling to get the first convention centre built, a roller-coaster ride of announcements, mounting construction costs, and cancellations, with a final lifering tossed to the project by the federal government in order to get Canada Place, with its sails that have now become a city-defining image, built in time for Expo 86.

The idea of adding more convention space, which kicked off in 1994 when casino entrepreneur Steve Wynn talked about building a combination casino, hotel and convention centre on the waterfront, has gone through a similar

roller-coaster evolution. Three companies with three different sites duked it out for a couple of years. Swashbuckling then-premier Glen Clark picked one site on Vancouver port land and construction started. Then he fell from grace and the project, with construction costs estimated at $1 billion, was cancelled. Business and tourism groups scrambled to put together a replacement project.

Finally, in an echo of the pre-Expo days, Prime Minister Jean Chretien threw the project a lifeline on Dec. 4, 2002, with $200 million in federal funding.

In October 2003 the project team, with renowned Seattle convention-centre specialists LMN Architects and two local firms on board, came up with its first concept for the convention-centre expansion. It got a fairly favourable response.

The convention-centre exhibition hall, usually the least attractive and most inwardly focused box in any convention centre, was underground and backed up against the escarpment that defines the north edge of Vancouver’s downtown peninsula, with other meeting and commercial spaces set in a couple of terraces stepping down to water level.

Compared to the Marathon proposal (pictured here) of 1997 or the design that business and tourism groups had developed in 2001 the project was pulled back out of the water and so it wasn’t as spacious or terraced. But it was considered to be a promising start.

The centre’s green roof was one of the most striking elements. In this first design, the roof, shaped like two large beetle wings, capped a relatively low building and it was going to be open in part to the public, with stairs leading up from the plaza level to the west. There was even some giddy talk at the time of having mountain-bike trails, among other public activities, on the sloping roof.

But throughout the next seven months, the design changed. It went through what’s called “value engineering” — a fancy phrase for trimming the budget.

OTHER CITIES, OTHER PROJECTS

Pittsburgh

BUILT: 2003

ARCHITECT: Rafael Vinoly

WHY IT’S SIGNIFICANT: It’s billed as the world’s first “green convention centre,” with a high proportion of natural lighting and ventilation. Its peaked roof gives the centre a distinctive, dynamic image. It has also received praise for the way it complements its river settings. Convention planners are critical, however, because they say that it doesn’t function well for actual convention activities.

San Diego

BUILT: 1989

ARCHITECT: Arthur Erickson and LMN

WHY IT’S SIGNIFICANT: It’s praised for its striking design from the outside that, with its sail-like roof, gives the project a marine feel and became one of the most recognizable city images, an instant icon for San Diego, just as Canada Place did for Vancouver. However, it has been criticized for the way it cuts off San Diego from its waterfront, a problem Vancouver has been fighting to avoid.

Hong Kong

BUILT: 1988

ARCHITECT: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

WHY IT’S SIGNIFICANT: Hong Kong‘s convention centre has a landmark feel to it because of its exuberant roof. It combines a sense of place with a functional convention centre, unlike some centres that are designed to prevent conventioneers from much contact with the city they’re in. The building was forced to go up rather than out because of the high cost of land in Hong Kong.

Honolulu

BUILT: 1996

ARCHITECT: LMN Architects

WHY IT’S SIGNIFICANT: The design focused on a building that reflected Hawaii‘s history and culture and Waikiki‘s environment. Built with a street on one side and a canal on the other, it has a striking main entrance. It incorporates native Hawaiian materials, plants, and references to the islands’ past — part of the new trend of building convention centres that reflect their settings rather than shutting them out.

© The Vancouver Sun 2005

 

‘Moving house’ takes on a whole new meaning

Saturday, May 21st, 2005

Darah Hansen
Sun

COQUITLAM I Police in Coquitlam got an unexpected chuckle Thursday from the unusual tale of a woman who fell asleep in a house in Vancouver only to wake up in the same home in Port Coquitlam the next morning.

“We’ve all had a bit of a giggle — my gosh, that’s an awful long way to go and not wake up,” said Corp. Janice Baptista of the Coquitlam RCMP.

Baptista said the woman ducked inside a developer’s display home in Vancouver Wednesday night in an effort to get out of the rain. She fell asleep and was apparently unaware the home was being transported to a storage yard in Port Coquitlam, police said.

Police were called to the yard in the 1600-block of Broadway Avenue, Port Coquitlam around 1:15 p.m. Thursday, responding to the report of a confused young woman “acting strangely.”

After a conversation with the woman, Baptista said her strange situation became clear.

No charges were laid, and neither the woman nor the display home was harmed in the incident.

© The Vancouver Sun 2005

W. Georgia derelict eyesore – Holborn Group resubmitting new plans

Wednesday, May 18th, 2005

Naoibh O’Connor
Van. Courier

A building shell sits on a site turned down by the city’s urban design panel for a proposed 167-metre tower.

An effort to redevelop an abandoned building site at 1133 West Georgia is still in the works, even though the city’s urban design panel voted against an initial highrise design proposal in mid-March.

The property is owned by the Holborn Group, which wants to construct a 167-metre tower that includes a hotel on the lower floors and residential units on the upper levels.

Rezoning planner Phil Mondor said he anticipates a redesign of the mixed-use structure will be submitted by Holborn at month’s end or early June.

A building shell sits on the site, which has been vacant for almost a decade. One former owner tried to convert it into a gym and recreation centre, but those plans failed for unknown reasons.

Cadillac Fairview bought the property in 2000, but sold it to Holborn in 2003.

The city has fielded complaints about the state of the property for years. It was cleaned up in 2003, including the removal of a crane, tarps, garbage and other debris for safety, but it remains an eyesore to many.

Mondor said the highrise proposed by Holborn would be the second tallest building in Vancouver after the Shangri-La tower, which will be across the street.

The reworked submission is expected to cover roughly the same floor area and the tower will be positioned in the same footprint, but it will also address some of the concerns outlined by the design panel, which included two internationally known architects.

One criticism in March was that it didn’t look as tall as it was because of several design elements such as a flared top and its use of materials. Panel members also wondered how the plans were “informed” by sustainability objectives, according to Mondor.

“But people are very happy that there’s a rezoning application [filed],” he said.

One of the problems facing the developer of the property is the need to demolish the existing structure and underground parking-an expensive proposition considering the site has been seismically updated, which makes it more difficult and costly to knock down.

Whether the urban design panel and city council ultimately approves Holborn’s plans remains to be seen, however.

“Rezonings are never a sure thing. Ultimately it’s a city council decision that’s needed and we don’t want to predict what decision city council will make,” Mondor said.