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The Bob Rennie annual event: “I told you so” + “Two markets, one paycheque”

May 21st, 2013 · 8 Comments

My account of condo marketer/power broker Bob Rennie’s speech to the development industry, which began with him saying “I told you so” and continued from there.

(For those recently living under a rock, Rennie was one of Premier Christy Clark’s most vocal backers, convinced to the last minute she would win.)

Clark thanks condo kings for their support

Published Thursday, May. 16, 2013 10:50PM EDT

Last updated Thursday, May. 16, 2013 10:52PM EDT

The must-attend event of the year for Vancouver’s condo industry began on Thursday with a standing ovation for Premier Christy Clark from a business group that had been among the most alarmed about the possibility of an NDP government.

Ms. Clark, who confounded the expectations of many with a big win for her party on Tuesday, came out to thank two of her major supporters, who are leading figures in that world.

“There were a lot of people who doubted this could be done,” Ms. Clark said at the annual address by powerhouse condo marketer Bob Rennie to the Urban Development Institute.

Mr. Rennie and developer Peter Wall were two who stuck by her. On Thursday, Ms. Clark walked into a downtown hotel ballroom arm in arm with Mr. Wall and voiced her gratitude personally before Mr. Rennie started his speech.

“I want to say a special thanks to Bob Rennie and Peter Wall,” Ms. Clark told the enthusiastic crowd of about 1,000.

But Ms. Clark likely got a lot of support from the whole industry. As Mr. Rennie remarked shortly afterward: “This is a really, really important room to the B.C. Liberals.”

In both informal conversations and some public remarks at earlier industry forums, many people in the real estate business made it clear they thought building construction had ground to a halt when the NDP was in power in the 1990s. They feared the same would happen again if the party had won on Tuesday.

Once Mr. Rennie took the stage after the Premier’s departure, however, he avoided suggesting the industry had dodged a bullet.

Instead, he delivered a speech thick with his usual mix of personal observations, jokes and carefully assembled statistics about the real-estate industry and its personalities.

Among the first topics: gentrification in the Downtown Eastside and the need for the city to protect the small businesses that cater to its low-income residents.

“We may not like the Pidgin restaurant protesters’ tactics, but they do have a point,” Mr. Rennie said of the now-famous anti-gentrification protest that has been carried on almost daily outside an upscale restaurant that opened February in the heart of the neighbourhood.

He said no market condo developments should be allowed in the three core blocks of Hastings Street near there. Pidgin is around the corner from the most western of the blocks he identified.

And he said the city needs to find a way to subsidize or encourage businesses that cater to low-income people to open up in that area.

“There’s no sense putting 20 to 30 per cent low-income people in a neighbourhood if they have nowhere to shop,” he said. “Maybe it’s time to start allocating commercial space the same way we do with non-market housing: Create low rent for those services that cater to non-market residents in the neighbourhood.”

Mr. Rennie added that the possibility for gentrification is limited in the Downtown Eastside because no superblocks, except for the site of the Army & Navy discount department store, are available for development.

He also carried on with a theme he began last year, explaining how baby boomers in Vancouver are driving real-estate development.

A surge of seniors is coming who are sitting on $88-billion in home equity that they’re going to cash in to help their children buy property and to pay for their health care.

Those people want to stay in their neighbourhoods when they downsize.

“It doesn’t how matter how wealthy they are, they’re looking to age in place in their community,” Mr. Rennie said.

That means builders need to be aware that they are building for two groups: the seniors buying down, and their children buying for the first time or buying up. But since the parents are helping out financially, they’ll have a say in what their children buy.

That means, said Mr. Rennie, they won’t go for anything too radical or any “crazy green initiatives.”

“You have to understand, it’s two markets, one chequebook.”

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