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Giant Oakridge project gets scaled back amid concerns re construction costs, retail economy

January 13th, 2016 · 7 Comments

This is a first for Ivanhoe Cambridge, the global real-estate investment firm, and for the city — a $1.5-billion redevelopment project scheduled for Oakridge Centre is being scaled back.

My story here details the many reasons the company gave and that retail consultants also suggested: high construction costs, a hugely long period of construction that tenants would surely object to, a changed retail market in Vancouver, and more.

The advance news about this started seeping through city hall before Christmas. I’d heard that one possible reason, along with the others, was that the project developers (Ivanhoe and its residential-development partner, Ian Gillespie at Westbank) were still unhappy about the $148-million in community-amenity contributions the city had demanded. That amount had been increased significantly by former city manager Penny Ballem just before the approval, which created a certain amount of, shall we say, unhappiness.

Ivanhoe’s vp said that wasn’t at all the reason. But, interestingly, when I talked to Councillor Raymond Louie about the whole issue a couple of weeks ago, he spent part of the conversation defending the city’s CAC bill, saying the city couldn’t be expected to lower its requirements just because Ivanhoe/Westbank were running into unexpectedly high projected construction costs.

“We can’t be subsidizing the redevelopment of sites,” he told me back in pre-Christmas December. “It’s our job to make sure the citizens are taken care of.”

Anyway, now we’ll all wait to see what the revised plan looks like.  I am including below the full, official statement that Ivanhoe released.

At a public hearing in March 2014, Vancouver City Council approved Ivanhoé Cambridge’s proposal for a mixed-use redevelopment of the Oakridge Centre site at 41st Avenue and Cambie Street in Vancouver. The project would urbanize a 1950s-era shopping centre on a significantly underutilized transit-served site and deliver on a number of objectives for the neighbourhood identified by the City of Vancouver and also contained in its larger policy objectives.

Since the public hearing, the project team has continued to refine the design of the redevelopment, while determining the best way to phase its construction. The focus of these efforts has always been to ensure uninterrupted operation of Oakridge Centre as the social and economic hub of the Oakridge neighbourhood, and to minimize impacts on the retail tenants and the 2,500 full- and part-time employees who work at the site. There has also been an objective to reduce the length of the construction schedule.

The team was also tasked with finding efficiencies in the design of the parkade that could reduce the depth of excavation in order to minimize intrusions into the large aquifer beneath the site. Working within the aquifer would entail costly and unconventional construction techniques that the project team recommended be avoided. Finally, the design team was challenged to continue to improve the functionality and accessibility of the proposed 9-acre rooftop park and to look at optimizing the location of the 70,000 sf Oakridge Civic Centre on the site.

The project team concluded that maintaining uninterrupted operation of most of the shopping centre throughout construction would require a longer construction schedule. It further determined that minimizing intrusions into the aquifer would require a reduction in the parking supply for the project and therefore a decrease in density. Taken together, these conclusions suggested that a modification of the original plan would produce a better result.

While this work was underway, Target, one of the centre’s anchor tenants, announced its departure from Canada. The retail component of the project was designed around a two-level mall with several two-level anchor tenants. Therefore, with only one two-level anchor tenant remaining in the project, the centre’s merchandising plan and layout needed to be reworked.

As a result, Ivanhoé Cambridge is now proceeding with modifications to the plan that would produce a slightly smaller project completed over a shorter time and with reduced impact on tenants, employees, the community and the environment.

To facilitate this process, Ivanhoé Cambridge has retained the internationally acclaimed architectural firm Benoy (, based in London, UK, to be its lead design architect. Despite the reduced project size, there will be no change to the public-benefits strategy previously agreed to with the City, and the site’s potential for significant residential density at a major transit hub will be realized.

Ivanhoé Cambridge recently began discussions with the City of Vancouver Planning Department to look at options for modifications to the approved plan that will meet and exceed the design and planning objectives that were achieved in the 2014 rezoning. The nature of the refinements will likely require amendments to the 2014 rezoning, which Ivanhoé Cambridge will pursue in 2016 with a goal of starting construction in 2017.

Ivanhoé Cambridge and its residential partner Westbank remain 100% committed to creating a mixed-use, transit-oriented, amenity-rich project that will establish a new development standard in Vancouver.





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