Are Trends Favoring the Urban Life?

Urban Construction in Vancouver, early 2020

As the millennial generation moves from the ‘youngsters’ to the ‘prime years’ category, they are having families, they are at or near peak earning years, and in some cases moving to the suburbs. Millennials are now the driving force in American politics and economics as they have both the numbers (roughly 80 million strong), and they are the movers and shakers, inventors, and entrepreneurs of the day.

To some extent it has been these younger people driving the urban lifestyle in places like Portland and Vancouver. They have loved the close in, walk-able and sustainable urban neighborhoods. Are they ready to give it all up? Maybe.

There are a number of factors that could be driving people out of the city center and into the burbs. One of course, is the aforementioned ‘family life’ which was an inevitable outcome, but other factors remain that both encourage and dissuade the ‘downtown’ crowd. The notion of the sustainable and walk-able neighborhood is still desirable among not just the Millennial crowd, but Xers and Boomers as well. What may be the root causes of the Millennial suburban migration is schools and social unrest.

In cities like Portland there are protests that routinely become unruly, in fairness to the groups holding protests, it is usually nasty outsiders causing the problems, but officials in the city of Portland seem to have a ‘let it burn’ mentality rather than a crack down on violence and destruction. This can easily dissuade a young family with small children concerned about safety issues. But the urban style planning is not limited to large urban cities like Portland or Seattle. Even traditional suburbs like Beaverton, Hillsboro, and Gresham are moving towards a sustainable, walk-able urban style albeit a bit less dense than Portland or even Vancouver.

Sometimes there are aggressive homeless in urban cores that also may have a negative effect on families that was less problematic for them before the kids came along. Schools are definitely a concern among parents especially those that cannot afford to send their children to private school. The same safety concerns regarding homeless, riots, etc. could effect children standing at a bus stop to go to school, at least in the eyes of new parents with small children.

Vancouver sits in a prime spot being much larger and more cosmopolitan than any of Oregon’s suburban communities yet smaller and less dense than the Northwest giants of Seattle and Portland. It seems Downtown Vancouver is filling a gap between sleepy suburbia and the raging urban centers. Vancouver recently approved a new urban elementary school campus to serve the rapidly growing Downtown population near the Fort Vancouver Library Admin Offices. This will certainly give parents with elementary school kids another reason to either stay put Downtown or to make the move from places like Portland.

Millennials are not the only demographic that is on board with the urban lifestyle. Older people that no longer want to deal with the suburban yard work and or long drives to various daily and weekly activities are also strong advocates for the urban condo scene. Younger fresh grads including many in the tech field that are the leading edge of the Generation Z, have grown up in a world that emphasizes the importance of smaller space, walk-able neighborhoods and ecologically sound economics of an urban neighborhood. In fact statistics show that Gen Z has the lowest rate of drivers in more than 80 years. People without cars tend to prefer urban areas.

I think the partial exit of Millennials from the urban core will be met head on with increased demand from seniors as well as the younger half of the Millennial Generation and fresh new adults from Gen Z. Seriously, who doesn’t want to be able to take a 5-10 minute walk and be able to visit more than 100 restaurants, pubs, breweries, and wineries? I believe that exodus from Portland may also drive activity here in Vancouver to keep the urban vibe buzzing for the foreseeable future.

Original First Presbyterian Church built in 1912

In other news: The Columbian reported that the Ed Lynch Estate has officially acquired the entire city block that houses the 108 year brick church building most recently occupied by New Heights Church. The beautiful brick building is made from un-reinforced masonry and needs millions of dollars in work to remain viable. This is a striking building and I do hope it will be saved from the wrecking ball. I will be following the fate of this block.

Urban Projects Update

In the urban pipeline there are numerous projects in various stages of development and it has been a few since I updated these proposals and under construction projects. But first, on the local urban condo scene a quick update; sales, new listings, and pendings were pretty typical again this week. Inventory remains about the same.

COVID-19 of course has had an impact on projects. The City Center Redevelopment Authority held its first meeting since February last week. It is quite reasonable to suggest that the pipeline of proposals working through the system has been slowed due to a bureaucratic delay imposed by Corona Virus regulations and cancellations. The City of Vancouver is also notoriously slow when updating the online projects status on the city website. I’ve seen a building topped out before the city has changed the status from under review to approved. This is why I go to the meetings or listen to the recorded sessions to try and stay on top of activity.

Active urban projects under construction:

  1. Kirkland Tower, 12 floor condominium project on the Waterfront was topped out in 2019. This project was delayed a bit during the phase one reopening period as construction briefly was halted and then continued at a slower pace to remain compliant with the Governor’s rules. Phase two seems to have opened things up a bit and the glass front cladding is nearly complete. The tower crane was removed back in February by the authority of the FAA so this has likely slowed that process a bit. I have not seen any official completion adjustments, but I doubt they can make the Q4 2020 date, I’m figuring Q1 2021. The adjacent 8 story hotel will likely complete first.
  2. Several urban apartment projects are hammering away, The Aria is topped out, the Vancouver Center tower 4 is fully clad and now seeing final exterior trim and interior finishing. Our Heroes Place a two tower complex on Mill Plain is complete and leasing. Both of the 4 story apartment buildings in the VW-10 project in Midtown are topped out.
  3. The Columbia on Block 20 at the Waterfront is nearing completion on the underground garage and base podium. This 248 unit apartment building will rise rather quickly after the steel and concrete work is complete on the base. I believe the top 5 floors will be wood frame construction although I have not confirmed that yet. The suggested target opening of  “July 2021” suggests wood frame for the top five floors.
  4. Al Angelo’s Mill Plain II tower is topped out. The steel and concrete structure will be a mixed use building with some apartments included in the mix. It serves as the companion to the previously built Mill Plain I tower.

Proposed projects getting close:

  1. The AC Marriott Hotel at Terminal One has completed the ground prep but no activity yet on actual construction. The city has approved the plans but perhaps some permitting issues remain.
  2. The City green lighted the Hyatt Place Hotel on West 4th and Washington. This is a small hotel with 5 floors and a rooftop bar and patio. This seems like a nice little project. Evergreen and Ryan Hurley are involved in the development. I’d expect to see a ground breaking very soon.
  3. Aegis Phase One received the City blessing early this year, but has yet to get final approval to pull permits as near as I can tell. All indications were for a Q2 start, but COVID-19 may have led to delays. Since Q2 ends tomorrow I suppose Q3 is more likely for a start. I’m rather excited about this project as it will clean up the area around the beautiful Academy Building.

Proposed projects (selected):

  1. Timberhouse on Block 3 at the Waterfront remains in the pre-app phase. I have been unable to get a comment from the developer on the status of this project that is one of my favorites. This 12 story CLT (cross laminated timber) building seems to be stalled, but no one has said one way or another. The block was sold to the project developer, so it remains reasonable to assume they will start this project at some point in the not too distant future.
  2. The Springs Living proposed a 12 story senior community for Block 18 on the Waterfront last year. I would imagine they have their hands full dealing with COVID-19 in their other facilities around the Northwest. Not much has been released aside from the initial drawings in the pre-app submission. Based on my observations this will be a flagship location for them.
  3. The Trestle on Block 14 was a proposal last spring (2019) for a 16 story CLT tower that received media attention but has not publicly progressed any further. The Kaiser + Path website in Portland shows a number of cross laminated timber projects including the “world’s tallest” CLT building, but no mention of this project. The Block remains in the ownership of Waterfront.
  4. Vancouver Downtown, Block 10 is slated to get underway as soon as the Vancouver Center Tower 4 project is not needing the staging space on the block. This is a full block mixed use project by Holland Partner Group. A two story podium mixed with retail and structured parking will have two towers over the top one with five floors of residential, the other 4 floors of office. Block ten has sat idle for decades following the closure and subsequent demolition of the Lucky Lager Brewery complex.
  5. Gramor’s 14 story 80 unit condo tower on Block 16 at the Waterfront, has been proposed since the early development stages. The waterfront is advertising the project proposal on their website. I would imagine the success at Kirkland Tower will be monitored and have an effect on how this tower ultimately is built and marketed.

Urban Living in the ‘Couv’ is still tracking roughly 50 urban projects as they make their way from proposal to completion. Keep checking back every week for updates and information. Also remember you can track real time progress and activity of listed urban condos anytime by visiting this page.


Activity Picking Up.

The local urban condo market saw a bit of a gain in listings adding to the inventory at plus one unit. Four new listings against three new pending sales and a closed sale. This is good activity across the broad spectrum of pricing from the entry level at $210,000 up to the higher end in seven figures. Units are selling and new units are arriving to replace them.

Northwynd at Columbia Shores has the most units listed and the activity in that complex seems to favor buyers. Just about everywhere else in the Vancouver urban condo market, sellers hold a slight advantage.

Kirkland Tower (left) and Indigo Hotel (right)

Kirkland continues its work on the two building complex at Block 4 on the waterfront. It appears that the emphasis is on the completion of the 8 story Indigo Hotel project rather than the 12 story condo tower. This would make sense because the Kirkland Tower condos are going to rely on the hotel for some of the HOA amenities. The Indigo Hotel is nearly done with the glass siding and they are only needing to finish up exterior trim facades before the interior gets finished out. Even with the COVID-19 delays it does appear this project will complete close to the scheduled time of late Q4 perhaps pushing into mid Q1, 2021. The condo tower may be delayed completing late Q1, or early Q2, 2021. These timelines are based on observations and not any official report from Kirkland Development. These will be the first brand new condominium units in Downtown Vancouver in many years.

Block 16 proposal, Gramor Development

The success at Kirkland Tower is very important to the rest of the Vancouver waterfront project. There are multiple condo projects in the pipeline including Gramor Development’s 14 story 80 unit proposal for Block 16. Kaiser+Path in Portland has proposed a 16 story CLT condo tower on Block 14 as well. I would imagine those two groups are waiting to see how Kirkland does with its smaller but likely more luxurious 40 unit 12 story tower.

Kirkland is also pursuing an shorter 8 story project east of the Interstate Bridge near the current Who, Song, and Larry’s restaurant. This project may include condos as well.

The Springs Living, proposal, Block 18

The Springs Living proposed a 12 story senior living tower for Block 18, offering a wide variety of amenities geared towards the needs of elderly citizens. The city seemed rather pleased with the project proposal on the pre-app submission based on comments published in VBJ and the Columbian. Senior facilities do have their hands full with COVID-19 issues so I am not sure if the timelines for this proposal will be negatively impacted.

The global slowdown due to COVID-19 could translate to some of the waterfront projects being pushed back on start dates. Although that does not seem to be the case right now it could be at least part of why Summit Development Group has not broken ground yet on the Timberhouse project for Block 2.

Hopefully we can get through this economic turbulence and return to positive growth in the second half of 2020 leading into 2021.


Latest Buzz

Kirkland Tower is getting close to topping out. They are under a bit of a crunch as the FAA height restriction variance for the 250 foot tower crane expires this month. They are working on completing the 11 story super structure, I’d imagine the 12th floor rooftop penthouse and patio won’t need the tower crane. It looks like they have 9 floors built up and as of yesterday were working on the tenth floor. Kirkland Tower will have super premium condos, that take full advantage of the waterfront location and the amenities of the attached 8 story Hotel Indigo that topped out last month.

Last week’s CCRA meeting had updates for the City of Vancouver’s vision for the waterfront gateway area south of city hall and north of the BNSF Railway. I’m awaiting the release of any new information on this new development zone.

Last month the CCRA got a preview of the updated Holland Partner Group proposal for Block Ten which was met with mostly favorable response. That updated plan will be presented at the city pre-application conference this week. Hopefully some additional details will become available. This project is supposed to break ground this year to take advantage of expiring incentives. It will include a 4 story office building on top of ground level retail and two floors of parking. Also a residential tower with five floors of apartments stacked over mixed use ground level and again 2 floors of parking. It will be nice to have that long empty block built up with an enduring project.

I noticed that construction fencing has gone up around Block 20 on the waterfront. Also construction fencing went up around Block 19 but I suspect that Block 19 will serve as a staging lot for the fairly large project on Block 20. On Saturday there was equipment and supplies being unloaded on both lots.

This will be a 7 story apartment building with a similar size and scope of Riverwest on Block 8. Unlike Riverwest, this project is not expected to have a mixed use element and should be all residential. Jackson Square Properties out of San Francisco is the developer and they must be close to getting permits. The City of Vancouver project site still has it “under review” but I think they are probably already approved or very near approval.

I also noticed construction fencing has been in place for quite awhile around the Library Square property owned by Killian Pacific, but no activity appears to happening. This is a really important block and I feel like we need to get moving on it. Killian already got postponed a decade after the ‘Great Recession’ hit in 2008, another economic slowdown could cause more delays in the future. Why not get going now while real estate investment money is flowing like the Columbia River in springtime!

Marathon unveiled their phase two proposal for the Academy despite any actual activity at phase one. I think this also could be indicative of them feeling close to approval for permits on Aegis phase one. I like the Aegis project and would love to see them start on it before the end of the year.

Cascadia Development Partners is fast at work on the Aria. This is a 6 story apartment and townhouse residential building going up on West 6th just west of Esther Short Park almost ‘catty corner’ from City Hall.

Cascadia did the Uptown Apartments on Main Street and West McLoughlin. They did a fantastic job on that project. It opened in 2018 and they managed to get the building quickly leased. They were not as successful on the retail part, but they still got that building sold a year after it opened for a tidy profit. The building cost $45 million to build and opened in January 2018, it sold in May of this year for $57 million. The investors should be happy with their performance on that project. I think the Aria will be even better. The construction costs will be substantially lower (Estimated at $26 million) since it is a more simple approach, with a much easier excavation. The location is amazing. Cascadia should hit a home run with this project.

I’m hoping we will hear more from Cascadia about the full city block bounded by Main Street, West 15th, Washington Street, and West 16th. They have had a large development sign up with a leasing info contact, and some press reports about having something lined up for that block. That is an important block as it is visible to everyone visiting Downtown that uses the Mill Plain off ramp. I hate dead blocks!

Prestige Development is very close to opening the Our Heroes apartment buildings on East 13th at E Street. They have the clock/temp digital sign working on the top of the North Tower (Ed Tower).

The Columbian reported about two new ‘restaurants’ opening Downtown. A ‘Country Bar’ called “Six Shooter” should keep our ‘urban cowboys’ entertained and a Georgian restaurant called “Dediko” add to the expanding diversity of food and drink in our urban core.

The urban condo scene was business as usual with no new inventory but one unit returned to market after being pending for a couple of weeks and a few price changes and closings as well.

Waterfront and Downtown are ‘Off the Vine’

Everyone knows that Portland and Vancouver have a serious craft beer scene. Vancouver has quietly become a top destination for craft breweries and at least on a per capita basis is challenging our big sister to the south.

What has happened even more quietly is our emerging wine experience. Of course Maryhill Winery opened their lovely tasting room/eatery right on the water on Block 12 but over the last few weeks announcements of 5 more tasting rooms / restaurants both on the waterfront and downtown will bring the number of wineries and tasting rooms to ten in the area from Uptown to the Waterfront.

Check this article on the beer and wine scene in The ‘Couv’ Life here. 

In other news the Indigo Hotel building appears to be topped out as the beams and temporary roofing are in place above the 8th floor. Kirkland Tower still has 4 to 5 floors to go before topping out. I am very excited about the Indigo Hotel, this is a bold design and I think those that are skeptical will be amazed when this project is done. This hotel will be a first class structure. Seriously, El Gaucho is going in there, that is a pretty big endorsement. As for Kirkland Tower those units are going to be ultra premium condos in the $1-$5 million price range.

The AC Marriott Hotel project on Terminal One two blocks east of the Indigo has been under way with ground preparations. This week at the CCRA meeting on Thursday at City Hall, locally based Vesta Hospitality will make a presentation of the project as they move forward in final approval process. The project will feature parking on the second and third floors rather than underground parking. Ground level will be a mix of hotel lobby, meeting space and some retail with five floors of hotel rooms over the parking garage. The 7 story building should be relatively short in height as parking garage floors are generally shorter. I imagine there will be no issue with the FAA on this project.

At this same meeting the city will present the Memorandum of Understanding regarding the redevelopment of what the city is calling the Waterfront Gateway. This area is almost entirely owned by the City of Vancouver and includes a large parcel currently used as a surface parking lot. I think this is an important redevelopment area. It is unlikely any tall structures will go here, the City has a roughly 4-6 floor height limit in the area and that is largely due to Pearson Airfield flight paths. But having that area built up as more than a grassy field and surface parking is an important process to making the downtown and the waterfront congruous.

The published agenda for this CCRA meeting shows that there will be an update ont he Block Ten redevelopment project in which Holland Partner group has proposed a multi-tower 11 story office and 7 story residential buildings. Hopefully we will see some actual details. I’m watching this one closely.

The Columbian reported recently that local architecture firm, LSW is organizing an event called “Design Vancouver” aimed at boosting Vancouver’s reputation as a design center. This inaugural event is drawing designers from Portland and around the Metro Area. They also have a keynote speaker, Rob Bredow, who is head of Industrial Light and Magic, yes that ILM of George Lucas / Star Wars fame. That conference is scheduled for October 4-5 next month.

The condo market continues to move nicely. Several units moved to pending or sold status this past week and only a couple of new listings came online which means inventory contracted a bit more. Price ranges from the entry level to the high end all saw mostly positive activity. This market for condos isn’t what I would call “hot” but it is solid with well priced units selling promptly and only the puffed up prices are sitting longer than 60 days.

Urban living in the ‘Couv’ is getting better every day.

New Plans for Block Ten Emerge

I have been watching the news on the developments for Block Ten just north of Vancouver Center. Plans for an 11 Story mixed use building with a grocer on the ground level have been scratched. Gramor Development, one of the best at developing grocer and neighborhood retail has been unable to secure a grocery tenant. According to an article last week in the Columbian, the grocery industry is skittish about brick and mortar locations under the changing landscape including giant Amazon and their deliver service.

I still feel that Amazon and other delivery services are shacked by the higher security residential building in a downtown environment. I believe that Downtown can support a grocery store with a lower than average shopper density than suburban stores need because of the secure space deterrent to delivery.

But the city, rightfully so, needs to do something with Block Ten. It’s a giant under utilized publicly owned space and they need to get something done NOW, while there is money in the economy to build it.

Holland Partner Group, a large urban residential developer that currently operates out of the 7th floor of 1111 Main Street, is planning on building a new 11 story Corporate HQ on the site. They own the Vancouver Center Tower 1 apartment building and is building the Tower 4 project right now. Holland is a pretty big outfit that tends to run under the radar.

They were considering a move to a suburban campus in Camas last year but are going to capitalize on the opportunity zone Downtown. Honestly, I thought they were silly to go to a suburban campus when all of their projects are high density, city center  developments often in the core districts of major US cities, like Seattle and Denver. They really ought to have a Downtown urban HQ, right?

The new project will also include a 7 story residential building designed to suit the needs of middle class renters or buyers at 80% of the local median income. The Columbian piece went on to describe a fast track style of development that Holland is willing to take on which will result in ground breaking this year, instead of late next year as the Gramor project was likely to do.

Although I personally am disappointed that a grocer has yet to emerge Downtown, I am overjoyed that the Block Ten development is coming sooner rather than later. I am also delighted that Vancouver will retain a fantastic local business that employs nearly 200 people in good paying jobs.

AC Marriott Progressing

The AC Marriott hotel slated to rise up as the first project in the Terminal One redevelopment has moved to the final stages of prep. A Columbian article showed an updated rendering of the project that is slightly scaled back from the 9 story 160 room concept to a 7 story 150 room hotel.

Vancouver based Vesta Hospitality is contracted to manage the project. Details released in the article say that the hotel will not have a rooftop restaurant after all. They cited the abundance of restaurants going in next door at Vancouver Waterfront for deleting that from the plans. Hmm, I don’t think you can have too many rooftop restaurants 😉

The ground needs to be shored up to meet earthquake standards so roughly $3 million is set aside to begin ground prep. The project nearly died due to increasing costs associated with the construction and the aforementioned ground work. However, the recent tax changes and Vancouver’s decision to include Terminal One in an opportunity zone led to the numbers penciling out again.

The Hotel should break ground later this year with hotel operations beginning in the first half of 2021. There is a flurry of urban hotel rooms going into both Downtown and the Waterfront, but that new area is already becoming quite the tourist attraction and that is only going to get better as the development continues to expand.

Latest Downtown Buzz

The Columbian reported recently that the Vancouver City Council is looking at contingency plans for Block 10 should Gramor be unable to lock down a grocer for the ground floor of the proposed high-rise project. According to the story, Gramor’s Barry Cain is confident he’ll ink a deal this year. The story went into details about the changing landscape in the grocery business and that once sprawling stores like Freddie and Safeway are now becoming smaller affairs more akin to the markets of yesteryear in mid-century America. That may be the perfect scenario for downtown, a small 15,000-20,ooo SF space.

Meanwhile Vancouver Center 4 should start seeing lots of activity, some minor prep work has begun but the building should go up fast as all the underground work is already in place.

Not much happening elsewhere in urban real estate at the moment, but on local economic news, the Port of Vancouver once again increased its volume setting another record for cargo handling volume. This is good news for our local area. Exports up 8.7%

Careful, Urban Views can be Fleeting

Buyers of urban style high-rise condos should be very aware of local plans and proposed new projects as they can often have a temporary or permanent effect on the quality of life for existing residents in existing developments.

Urban living is not just about an 11th floor condo overlooking the city, river, mountains, etc. It is also very much about the lifestyle. Living in the thick of things with easy walking access to a large list of venues for food, entertainment, and events.

For many a view is important and having that view last more than just a few months or years could be an important issue for many potential homeowners. New high-rise projects almost always cause some disruption to nearby residents and businesses as the tower cranes and work crews sometime cause detours and street closures along with a little dust and noise. This is temporary and many times the new project is a great improvement over the last use for the land either a vacant lot or under developed run down structure.

Google maps with unofficial representations of proposed and approved projects near Vancouver Center.

But there are times when the new building is tall enough to block the view of other nearby developments. Sometimes people sell their units in these “doomed” view buildings and they may not necessarily point out that the new structure proposed and approved by the city for construction will have a negative effect. This of course is a permanent problem as opposed to the temporary inconvenience of construction.

Right here in Vancouver USA we have a rather robust flurry of building activity in both the Downtown and Waterfront areas. Two projects are in place to cause some permanent view obstructions to a series of units in Vancouver Center, Heritage Place, and Smith Tower.

Parkview Tower in Vancouver Center is a bold example of this ‘price of progress’ problem. Parkview is aptly named considering half the units in the building actually face Esther Short Park. Esther Short Park is recorded on the National Register of Historic Places and thus will not be leveled to make way for any large high-rise projects in the future. Units facing the park will always enjoy the views over the park. But the units on the opposite side of the building currently have a more “urban” view looking across a small courtyard into the windows of the Vancouver Center 3 Office/Condo Tower which is much taller than Parkview. Some of those units that are close to the ends have views either to the northeast or southeast looking over vacant lots.

This view is ‘doomed’ When Block Ten rises up 11 floors in 2020-21

Those looking to the southeast will lose these views by the end of this year as the long-awaited Vancouver Center Tower 4 is slated to break ground next month. That tower will be as tall or taller than Parkview Tower, thus eliminating the current view of the South Main District and peek-a-boo Columbia River views.

Later on next year the superstructure of the new 11 story tower on the ‘Block Ten’ lot will eliminate the northeast views for Parkview. Many people, even Realtors® can’t seem to wrap their heads around why the units facing west over the park are priced so much higher. It’s the view! And the view is forever versus the views in east facing units that are in effect doomed.

Interior unit view, unaffected, already obstructed

Buyers need to be aware of projects that are in the pipeline and how they might affect the view of a home they are considering. Even if a view is unimportant to the buyer, the future obstruction could have a negative impact on property values.

At Parkview the interior east facing units are not likely to be affected by these projects because they already look out into the side of a building. These views are already obstructed and have been for many years. These units also are priced lower as a result. It’s the east facing corner units that have a view now but will soon have a view similar to the interior units. Realtors® list these units and show the “views” but often fail to mention that these views are not likely to persist. They may not be aware that these new projects are even in play.

Buyers, be careful and do not be afraid to ask direct questions to your real estate agent about the likely hood of the views being obstructed. No one knows for sure what may or may not happen in the future, but in this case we have a building going up this year that will affect views and another that is very likely to go up shortly after that affecting other views.

New Units For Sale at Parkview!

A couple of additional units were listed this month at Parkview and these are reasonably priced. There is a large difference in price between units that face the park and those that face the interior of the Vancouver Center complex. But aside from the wide open park view that the west-facing units offer, the rest of the amenities of living at Parkview are equal. You are still right downtown, right in the thick of Vancouver USA’s urban renewal. Check out the new listings here.