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Europeans enter another tower into Vancouver office surge downtown

September 25th, 2011 · 47 Comments

Much buzz among the commercial-building crowd about the entry of Credit Suisse/Swissreal Investments into Vancouver’s downtown office scene with a proposal for the 800 West Pender block. (My Globe story here.) The proposal gets its public launch tomorrow.

With three towers already approaching construction (University Club site on Hastings by Oxford, 745 Thurlow at Thurlow and Alberni by Bentall, and Telus Gardens on Georgia), and a few more hovering (Pattison’s mixed use project on Burrard, Aquilini’s tower by Rogers Arena), it really feels as though Vancouver is on the move.

This has to make the Visionistas happy, though the tower boom doesn’t have that much to do with any policies they’ve instituted. Possibly Telus was helped along by being able to work out a deal to buy the city parking lot on the block, but other towers appear to me to be the result of  pent-up demand in an unusually long cycle between building.

As Brent Toderian explained when I was researching this story (and another one that will appear in Tuesday’s Globe), commercial building doesn’t work the way residential does. Condos get built at a steady pace all the time. Offices get built in cycles, with a bunch coming on at once and then nothing for several years while tenants resort and absorb all the new space. That’s why it’s dangerous to assume that just because no offices get built for five or six years that it’s okay to release space for other uses.

Vancouver’s cycle this time was exceptionally long. The last tower to go up was the PriceWaterhouseCoopers one on Cordova, which opened in 2003. The only other big chunk of space after that was the top half of Bentall V, which opened in 2007. People blamce city policy, which allowed a couple of office sites (Shangri-La, Hudson) to become condos, wreaking havoc with land prices throughout the CBD.

That wasn’t the only factor, though, as I’ll explain in Tuesday’s story.

On a final note, I know it’s utterly childish, but I love hearing about new buildings going up that aren’t condos. Libraries, office towers,concert halls, community centres, you name it. That’s because they are usually so much more interesting. Condo developers often build buildings the way realtors prep houses — bland, nothing too offbeat that might put off a potential buyer.

Office towers, on the other hand, are often built to convey a distinctive corporate image. The towers being planned in this cycle are aiming for super-green and they’ve all got architectural flair, from the look of renderings so far.

None of us can bring a single New York condo building to the mind’s eye, I’m sure. But we do remember their great commercial towers, those present and those that have been erased.


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