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.

Vancouver Center 4 Modified, Again

Vancouver Center 4 is back in the news with the Columbian reporting in October, that construction should start in March.

Last year, Vancouver based, Holland Partner Group proposed a ten story light gauge steel structure for the site which would have housed 194 apartment units. The light gauge steel design has not been fully vetted for a west coast seismic zone so it seems that the alternative 6 story option will play out with 116 units and roughly 2000 feet of retail underneath.

Timing is important on this building for two reasons, first the city granted an extension on the special taxation / zoning of the building under the plan originally setup for the project in the early 2000’s. The structure must be done within a set time frame, which is closing in. Waiting on the seismic reporting was no longer an option. Furthermore, the building construction will be staged on Block Ten and Gramor is planning to erect their 11 story project on that block as soon as this project is complete, so again on the timing.

What I find odd is that Holland planned on a ten story structure but now according to the Columbian article is using a steel and concrete two-story base with four wood framed floors over the top. That doesn’t make sense when code allows for five floors up wood frame. The drawing from that same article shows a five wood frame up looking design over a single story concrete base. I imagine that is the plan since a seven story building was never discussed.

Steel and concrete building is time-consuming and expensive, so it is cost-effective to utilize wood framing whenever possible, especially for apartment units. If it is to be a two-story concrete base, it stands to reason the building ought to have seven floors.

Whatever the case may be, the beleaguered Vancouver Center 4 is finally going up and that is good news for downtown.

Gramor Revises Block Ten Proposal

Gramor Development, well known for their leadership in the massive waterfront project now underway, had a preliminary approval to build out Block Ten downtown. This full city block is the last remnant of the old Lucky Lager Brewery site and Gramor proposed a full service grocery store and other ground floor retail with 5-6 floors of apartments above and 1-3 floors of parking underground.

Earlier this fall, Gramor announced a revision to the plan seeking to make the building taller with above ground parking instead of underground. The revision calls for an 11 story structure rather than a 6-7 story building. This roughly matching the height of both the Riverview Tower and the Vancouver Center 3 tower, to the north and south respectively. Renderings do not appear to be public yet.

Gramor says the ground floor would be the grocery store and other retail fronting West 8th, Washington, and Columbia streets with the parking facing West 9th and using 3 of the building’s 11 floors on the north side. Should the city smile on the project, the construction would begin in roughly 18 months with completion in 2021. According to an article in the Columbian, the Block Ten site is scheduled to serve as a staging area for the upcoming Vancouver Center 4 tower.  It seems the timing would have Gramor building out the block after Vancouver Center 4 is topped out.

A grocery store is one of the few things still missing for Downtown’s urban residents. That is soon to find its remedy.