Is Urban Condo Living for You?

The “Downtown” living concept is not necessarily for everyone. There are advantages and disadvantages to living in a dense urban area filled with condos and apartments. Anyone thinking about this lifestyle ought to spend some time evaluating it before buying a condo unit.

The urban lifestyle allows people to walk to many if not all of the regular activities in their life. In suburbia the automobile is a mandatory prerequisite for a convenient living arrangement. In Downtown Vancouver or any other dense urban center, a car is truly optional. But owning a car while living in a mid-rise or high-rise residential building often comes with additional “issues.” Parking is at a premium and may require a monthly fee if not specifically deeded with the unit. Additionally urban properties often have structured parking in a garage that is a fair bit of a walk/elevator ride from the unit. Multiple trips from car to house can be a cumbersome task.

Friends and family coming in for a visit may find parking a hassle requiring a short walk and/or expenses for parking in the neighborhood. Also families with small children have a very different situation regarding playgrounds and street play. Many parents choose the suburban alternative when raising children.

The ideal candidates for this lifestyle are generally retired persons or young professionals looking for low maintenance living and proximity to exciting activities. People with long hours and busy schedules tend to prefer being close to ‘everything’ and retired people like the walkability and low maintenance of urban condos.

Urban condos generally offer good security as well. Most of the mid-rise and high-rise buildings have private secure lobbies. Units several floors off the ground tend to be safe from unwanted intrusions. The city center atmosphere is going to be noisier than the suburban life and much noisier than rural life. There will be an ever present ambient noise level that is much louder than what you find in the burbs. The streets will be a bit more crowded as well, but the level of activity provides an exciting buzz that leads to a feeling that there is always something to do and you can walk to it.

Vancouver USA has a fantastic urban core but whether going completely car free is doable depends largely on the lifestyle and work arrangements of the individual. Once the new market goes in at 15th and Main the “walk score” for much of Esther Short, Arnada, and Hough neighborhoods should be in the upper eighties to low nineties. But getting out of town will still require private transportation to maintain a reasonable level of convenience. However a couple or small group of people could easily share a car where as the tendency in car-dependent suburbs and rural areas is a car for every adult. Cars are expensive to own and maintain, so urban living with fewer cars or zero cars can save a fair bit of cash each month.

It comes down to lifestyle, living in the urban core is exciting and fresh with lots of activities, events, restaurants, bars, breweries, pubs, etc. and all in walking distance. But the urban life tens to be noisier and a bit busier so it may not be for everyone, but it just might be for you.

This past week saw some closings and pending sales but only one new listing and that one went pending right away. It seems like the busy buzz of our local market is affecting the urban condo scene as well.

Last week in a televised interview, CEO of Gramor Development, Barry Cain indicated a likely start on the Springs Living 12 story senior living tower should be in January. That’s good news, that looks like an exciting project. I also received word last month from an official at Summit Development Group that Timberhouse on Block 3 ought to break ground this month. Looking forward to another exciting summer of new construction, new restaurants and things to do in Downtown and the Waterfront.

Flurry of Activity in Condo Sales

Several new condo listings appeared on the MLS this past week, but more went pending than arrived. Condo inventory in the urban core got even tighter this past week. It seems we are moving towards a traditional spring listing bump but also hungry buyers are waiting to snatch them up. The last two listings in the exclusive and rather expensive Tidewater Cove closed last week leaving none of the seven figure priced units available for sale. How many of these units former owners are waiting to grab one of Dean Kirkland’s waterfront tower homes? It will be interesting to see how that plays into the success of this important project.

Several modestly price condos went pending this week as well and it is quite possible that the severe shortage of single family homes in Vancouver may be pushing buyers into condos both in suburbia and the city center. Despite Vancouver having a tight inventory on urban condos the activity around new listings up until now have been less frantic than the multiple offer in the first hours of listing scenario that has plagued buyers for median and sub-median detached houses in Vancouver. Buyers frustrated with the multiple offers over ask might consider the urban living lifestyle Downtown as things are a tad more relaxed.

Meanwhile DosAlas restaurant is scurrying about getting that venue ready for a projected May opening. This will fill the upper floor of the “Jean” building above Wildfin and overlooking the Grant Street Pier. The Jean is now fully leased. There is only a small amount of remaining space in the “Don” building for additional tenants. A small space upstairs next to Barlows will be the next restaurant space and completely fill the two buildings that form part of the public centerpiece around Grant Street Pier.

The renovations on the Vancouver Landing and public dock are moving along nicely and the AC Marriot Hotel is built up about halfway to its final height right behind the cruise ship landing. A large mobile crane is parked in front of the last bits of the Red Lion at the Quay and it appears to be a wrecking ball operation. We are still several years away from replacing the 100 plus year old Terminal One pier, but the demolition of the Quay may be underway soon. I wonder what the Port Authority will do with the space while we await funding for the new pier and future public market?

Block Ten is rising top nicely now about 2/3 the way to its final height. It is really nice seeing the last of brewery complex blocks becoming a new development. I’m sure the city is happy too after holding that property for 30 years. This project will have 110 units of apartments in the west tower (right side of picture) and office space in the east tower.

There is quite a bit of construction happening in the city center and this translates to jobs, economic activity for the local businesses and over the next couple of years lots of new residents!

Sunshine in the Sky and on the Ground

It’s rather sunny this week and the outlook for commercial and residential development in Vancouver is also very sunny right now. Several large scale urban residential projects are now or very soon to be underway. The Broadstone development on Block 17 at the Waterfront has its tower crane base in place. The crane will go up as soon as the concrete is set. The Aegis project is also underway, but that one will have a fair bit of ground prep before a crane goes up. I am still betting on a May groundbreaking for the former Timberhouse project now dubbed, “The Third” on block 3 of the waterfront.

For all the young families that are moving into the urban core, a brand new elementary school is going up. This school was originally part of the Library Square project that seems to be rather quiet at the moment. The school was to be among three to four mid-rise and high-rise structures on the former Carr dealership property on C Street just south of the library. That school is now rising up behind officer’s row across from Clark PUD on Fort Vancouver Way at Mill Plain. The school is still using the working name “Downtown Elementary” we will see if that holds up.

Activity continues at a brisk pace on Block Ten as the multi tower project is now rising above the two story podium. The office tower is an all concrete and steel affair on the east side facing Washington Steet while the residential tower will have the upper 5 floors in wood frame. Although this project is a little smaller in scale than Holland originally proposed, it is still a full block development with six and seven story towers. It also fits in with its surroundings nicely. I look forward to watching this rise up over the next several months.

Meanwhile, down on the waterfront a bustling construction environment continues. Kirkland Tower and the Indigo Hotel are inching closer to completion. It looks like the Hotel is still on track to open first perhaps in mid-summer with the 12 story condo tower looking more like a late summer opening. We shall see. That is a big project valued somewhere in the $100 million range, COVID and the supplies shortage has likely played a role in delaying this one some six to eight months. There hasn’t been a lot of interior renders for the hotel since the project was approved in 2018. But this is an open atrium hotel. There will be an open area on the second floor with floors 3-8 rising up around it and a giant skylight roof at the top will shower natural light below. This is going to be one of the nicest hotels in the entire Portland-Vancouver metro-area.

Another hotel is rising up really fast on Terminal One. Vesta Hospitality is working hard to get this seven story AC Marriott up right in front of the cruise ship landing that is under a complete renovation right now. I also could not help but notice a second mobile crane hovering over the remnants of the old Red Lion at the Quay. It looks ready to smash the porte-cochère that still stands along with parts of the old hotel. So long Quay! I hope the Port of Vancouver USA decides to keep the “Quay” reference perhaps calling the future open air market the “Market at the Quay” or something 🙂

In condo news, there was a flurry of new pending sales this past week. Two were new listings that sold quickly. The inventory Downtown condensed a bit while things at Columbia Shores were neutral.

More New Starts… Busy Summer Ahead

Last Thursday I updated the Broadstone at Block 17 Waterfront page on this site. There is a new full block perimeter fencing around the site with preparation and grading underway. It looks like Broadstone is ready to start. That is good news as the project should bring in $25-35 million to the local economy during construction and another 177 apartment units to market likely in Q2 2023.

Meanwhile at Terminal one, progress is moving steadily as the 7 story hotel is rising up behind the Cruise Ship landing. According to a press release by the Port of Vancouver and discussed in The Columbian on Thursday, the port signed a 50 year ground lease for blocks A and C. The lessee is shown as BOZ PORT OF VANCOUVER OWNER LLC which is a joint venture of Lincoln Property Company in Dallas, Texas and local firm, Bridge Investment Group. This project was teased a year or so ago and the drawings were presented in the preliminary review process. The Terminal One project is scheduled to start construction later this year and should produce close to $70 million in construction value.

I have been reporting on the 400 Washington Street block project recently. I noticed that the Hyatt Place Hotel development was approved nearly a year ago and nothing was happening. That isn’t a surprise, what with the COVID pandemic wreaking havoc on hotel business in general. But then I noticed Hurley presented a full block, 170 unit apartment proposal in front of the CCRA last year and I began to opine on this very site about the potential replacement of the Hyatt project. Last week The Columbian newspaper reported that Hurley Development is moving ahead with the full block proposal for the apartment building. Hyatt is dead, Washington Apartments is a go.

I was able to reach a lead contact at Summit Development the developer behind the Timberhouse project on Block 3. They are aiming for a May start pending some final permitting. I am excited about this project and look forward watching it rise over the next two years.

I mentioned activity at the Academy site for Phase 1 of Aegis. I have not heard from Marathon Acquisitions and Development yet, but it looks like they are ready to go. There is no underground parking on this project but I’d imagine there is a fair bit of ground prep due to the fact that the lot is a bit raised off the street surface at the north end. That may take a while to get prepped before we see the structures rise up.

I reached out to Kaiser + Path in Portland to inquire about the Trestle project proposed in 2019 for Block 14 at the waterfront. They are no longer pursuing that project. I have no other information from the developer, but I wouldn’t rule out issues with getting permitted on high-rise CLT of that height. This was to be a 16 story residential tower rising up to about 185 feet. It would have been the tallest CLT structure in the USA. CLT is an exciting new trend in building but is not without its detractors. It is disappointing that the project is not going to proceed. Hopefully we will see a future proposal from Kaiser + Path as they are a bold designer of projects that stand out in a crowded urban space.

Locally the urban condo market continues at a similar pace as it has over the last several months. Listings ticked up and so did sales. These are exciting times in Vancouver USA.

Activity at the Academy… Aegis?

I noticed that Pence Construction has erected full permitter construction fencing around the site of Phase One: Aegis at the Academy. This bodes well for my prediction that ground breaking is eminent.

I haven’t heard any official announcement for the ground breaking, but the fencing is a real strong indicator that the project has cleared the permitting process.

I’ll sniff around and keep you posted with a full update on Monday.

Rendering for both phases, Phase 1 on the left

The Street Eats extended, and Portland pulls a… Portland.

A report in The Columbian newspaper mentions that the City of Vancouver has extended the “Street eats” program for a full three years. This was a program designed to give local restaurants additional seating space outdoors during the pandemic to help them stay afloat. This allowed restaurants to apply for a grant and permission to use one or two on street parking spaces to build covered out door seating areas. It was highly successful and likely saved the businesses of numerous restaurants. There is even an app showing the participating restaurants. Three years may seem like a long time, but I think this has evolved into a business opportunity rather than just a makeshift effort to support local business.

Downtown Vancouver actually has pretty good parking for a mid-sized city with the level of density we have. I know some people get cranky when they can pull right in front of the place they want to go, come on, walk a half block, it won’t kill you 😉 This program maxes the number of spaces used to just 50 and that is an almost immeasurably small percentage of total available parking in the city core. It is truly nominal. I think city officials see an opportunity to create a more lively atmosphere and if so, I agree.

Portland pulls a “Portland.” Yes that’s a thing. The Columbian also reported that a local anti-highway group in Portland called “No More Freeways” filed suit against the federal government claiming a plan to add auxiliary lanes to I-5 at the Rose Quarter would cause more pollution. I have nothing against a group that wants to promote public transit and fewer cars, that’s all fine and well. But there is more to a highway system than just commuting and such. Highways are an integral part of every modern country on the planet. The section of I-5 through the Rose Quarter is a joke, it is a laughing stock. Portland is a major US city, and it has its primary arterial Interstate 5 choked down to just two lanes in each direction. This group doesn’t seem to understand that choking traffic to a crawl is the number one cause of localized automobile air pollution. Literally the science is all over this. Ah but science is only useful to an activist when it supports the cause, otherwise it is a nuisance best ignored.

Portland and the ODOT are not planning to expand the capacity of I-5 but rather to just add much needed auxiliary lanes allowing cars to safely and smoothly mitigate the transitions on and off the various ramps supporting the busy Rose Quarter area. I have little doubt this group will succeed in bullying local officials to pull out of the program, denying Portlanders a safe downtown highway, increasing traffic incidents and adding more pollution as congested traffic dumps exhaust of idling cars into local neighborhoods. Oh, and killing off $800 million in construction revenue and great union jobs for local workers. Nice one Portland… please stay south of the Columbia River, we don’t want to catch the brain cell killing disease you seem to have down there.

This anti highway attitude in Portland is the primary reason I do not support a ten lane bridge to replace the Interstate Bridge. Portland is not going to expand the I-5 corridor so there is no logical reason to have more than three lanes through on each side with one or two auxiliary lanes to support merging traffic. The key to the new bridge will be the approaches and ramps to keep merging cars rolling safely and smoothly.

Several projects in the urban core are in the final stretches including Angelo’s Mill Plain II Tower which provides much needed parking to support the Mill Plain I office tower and offers retail, office, and 44 units of housing. That project should be ready Q3 this year. The Kirkland Tower and Indigo Hotel project will likely be completed sometime this summer. Kirkland is already pushing through another project just north of the Waterfront and their other project dubbed Waterfront east has been in the new lately as well. The large seven story, 248 unit apartment building on Block 20 of the Waterfront is also in the final stages with exterior cladding and interior build-out underway.

I’m still waiting for groundbreaking announcements for both the ‘Timberhouse’ project on Block 3 of the Waterfront and the Broadstone on Block 17. Kirkland has not released publicly the pricing for the units in the nearly complete Kirkland Tower. This will be the newest and one of the nicest urban high-rise condominium opportunities in Vancouver. I still feel like the accelerated activity int he high-end Tidewater condo project with multi-million dollar units closing recently in much higher than average numbers could be indicative that Kirkland is doing well on pre-sales of units int he new 12 story tower.

For the fine-dining crowd: DosAlas directly above Wildfin at the Grant Street Pier, should open within a couple months and the El Gaucho restaurant at the new Indigo Hotel should be open shortly after the Hotel opens to the public late summer early fall.

The urban condo market remains strong, but it is not as crazy as the single family housing market in Vancouver which is just plain nuts right now. Anyone tired of endless bidding wars and offers 30% over ask can relax a little bit on the condos as those tend to be a little more ‘civilized’ transaction.

Urban Living Video Updates

I’ll be doing some video updates as progress continues on dozens of active projects in the urban core. The first of the new series is live now on YouTube. Be sure to subscribe to the channel to get the latest updates. Video has become a staple in the business of information dissemination. My preference is the written word, but video is definitely a more popular medium these days.

Strong Economic News

Nationally the economy is being driven by a great deal of factors. There is certainly pent-up demand for travel, dining, leisure and such after a year of lock-downs and restrictions on activity in the face of a global health pandemic. As governments loosens their grip, people are busting out of the proverbial seams to get back to some semblance of “normal.” The economy prior to the pandemic was roaring quite well and it seems it wants to get back to riding the wave.

Some economists are predicting summer GDP growth in the 5-7% range which is nuts. There are concerns however, among them is the amount of economic growth being driven by federal spending. A few dubious marks have been met including the federal government proposed spending figures reaching nearly one third of the GDP. That should and does concern many analysts about the long term sustainability of the current positive economic news.

Locally the urban condo market tightened again. Units are selling faster than new ones are coming to market. Downtown Vancouver offers a broad range of size and price for urban condos the likes of which are hard to find. A unit closed in Parkview last week at $240,000 and another unit closed over at Tidewater for $1.6 million. There is something for everyone, but there is a shortage of inventory as well. Sellers are keen to list now before any “rush” of listings in the traditional mid-spring market.

Last week did not offer a great deal of information on projects underway or soon to break ground. The tower crane at the Columbia project was dismantled which shows that project now entering the ‘home stretch.’ I did read an article about that project in The Columbian, that suggested November as the opening date for the 248 unit Block 20 development on the Waterfront. That however is at odds with comments quoted by The Columbian staff that the first move-ins would begin in July of this year. I think that project is on track for a mid to late summer open. We shall see.

The three projects I have my attention on now are Aegis, Broadstone, and Timberhouse AKA Block 3 Flats. These three should be getting underway soon.

Aegis is a multi-phase project with Phase 1 fully vetted by local government, but no ground breaking yet. Phase one is a two building project with 5 and 6 stories respectively and 140 apartment units. Some retail will be included in the mix. The project received a little more scrutiny than some others due to the proximity of the historic Academy building. Additionally the development will lie directly on top of existing parking that has not yet been replaced. I still expect that project to break ground between now and mid-summer. It is a good looking project that is complementary to the Academy site.

The Broadstone is proposed for Block 17 of the waterfront. This development is slated to have structured parking for 177 apartment units in a 5 over 2 layout. 2 floors of parking in the back of the base podium and a single floor in the front for a lobby and amenities. 5 floors of wood frame apartments over the top of the podium. The CCRA looked over the project and moved it forward tot he council. I feel like we should hear back soon and a ground breaking could very well happen this summer.

Timberhouse was originally planned as a 12 story CLT tower (cross laminated timber). CLT projects have been struggling lately and it seems that the developer, Summit Development Group in Clackamas County decided to move in a more traditional direction. This building will be 5 wood frame floors over a 3 story podium mixed with parking and retail. The 8 story project will feature 227 apartment units just north of the new Indigo Hotel and Kirkland Tower. Summit Development has owned the dirt for a couple years, I would imaging they are itching to get started. As I have previously reported, the block 3 location has been completely cleared by Kirkland who was using the parcel as a staging area for the $100 million dollar Block 4 development now approaching completion.

Sometimes these delays in start are due to more than just local government approval. Vancouver has a very robust construction market right now and sub-contractors are booked out pretty deep on the calendar these days. The taller urban projects have a number of speciality contractors as well who are often busy with other projects both Vancouver and elsewhere in the metro-area.

As these new projects come online, more people will reside in the area offering a boost to local businesses and also could create opportunities for new businesses to thrive. It is an exciting time be covering Vancouver’s urban renewal.

The Latest Buzz

I had the opportunity to get a preview of the new Aria apartment project that is now leasing. Cascadia Development Partners have created a nice space with an urban vibe and some solid views even from the lower floors. This project has 128 units including 5 townhouses that front West 6th, Street. These offer tenants a direct access to the street and two levels of living. The top five floors contain traditional apartment flats varying in size from studio to two beds and pair of baths. The third floor has a terrace that looks west towards the Port of Vancouver and the Columbia River. This facing is nice as it will block that notorious east wind that blows hard sometimes.

The Aria is well done and the rents, although not cheap by any measure, they are noticeably more reasonable than those on the Waterfront, and perhaps rightfully so. The Grant Street Pier is but a 5 minute stroll from the street in front of the Aria and the foot trip to Esther Short Park is measured in seconds not minutes. The Aria offers the full Downtown experience in a brand new building for what seems to be locally reasonable rents, all things considered.

Kirkland Development announced that Seattle’s ’13 Coins’ restaurant will open a location in the new Indigo Hotel slated to open this summer. 13 Coins expects to be operation in the fall of this year. The restaurant offers a broad menu across all mealtimes with a bit of an Italian ‘flavor.’ Although the restaurant has broad hours it also offers 24 hour delivery / takeout which should suit the Waterfront and Downtown scene well.

Kirkland also presented revised plans for his property just north of the Waterfront, Block 14 on West 7th. The company presented a proposal for a seven story storage facility last year, but has now decided on a seven story senior living residential and mixed use building according to an article in The Columbian yesterday.

Last month I mentioned that the Block 21 Listing sign had a red “in contract” on it. Well I went by last week and noticed the sign no longer has that “in contract” on it. Hmm, interesting. It seems that was either a mistake or perhaps the “deal” fell apart. That does happen in real estate sometimes particularly in commercial and high density residential.

The condo market in the city center tightened again with more listings moving from active to pending and pending to closed than were there new listings.

The Aria Begins Leasing and Tidewater Condos all Sold

The Aria, taken earlier this month, ready for occupancy first week of April, 2021

Cascadia Development Partners has completed another large and stylish apartment complex. After significant success with the Uptown built in 2018, the have completed another project, The Aria just west of Esther Short Park. I will be doing a tour of this latest mid-rise apartment project mid week.

Although the project is listed as a six story building it is actually seven. The “first” floor is actually two story townhouses sitting under five floors of apartment flats. I think this project will fill up nicely. It is just three or four blocks tot he Grant Street Pier at the Waterfront and half a block to Esther Short Park. Rents will likely be more reasonable than the two current projects on the Waterfront. These unit will offer some views of Downtown and the Columbia River and local Cascade Mountains.

On the condo scene, I noticed that every Tidewater condo listed in the last few months is now pending sale or closed. There are no active listings at Tidewater Cove right now! These are expensive condos ranging in price from $1 million to $3.5 million. My gut tells me that some of the equity from this activity will end up in Kirkland Tower when those luxury high rise units arrive to market sometime before summer this year. This is exciting stuff. I’ll report back next week on the Aria for those of you considering a nice urban apartment.