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.

No Chatter in a Long Bit on Timberhouse

I mentioned the Timberhouse project last month in an article about another new project proposed for the waterfront called the Trestle. Click here for that story.

Last year about this time the Columbian, Gramor Development, and other local biz buzz was all over this new CLT project planned for Block 3 called Timberhouse. The building is planning on using CLT or cross laminated timber for the construction. If built it would be the tallest CLT structure in the US and second tallest in the world. Of course the Trestle will be even taller but it is earlier in the development cycle. Or is it? The Timberhouse Talk has been almost non-existent this year other than a quote in a local newspaper from Gramor boss, Barry Cain suggesting it was coming along or something like that. Hmm, I not so sure. Block three is just sitting there, no activity at all.

I am kind of excited about Timberhouse, the project drawings show a building with a classic style. It has multiple wings of different heights and a series of architectural setbacks that harken to yesteryear, despite the structure featuring very modern building techniques and tech. I hope they can actually get this built.

One thing could be the production of CLT. It is a newish building material but on the plus side, Canadian Timber Products Giant, Katerra recently opened up its massive expansion in Spokane The 250,000 sf factory for CLT will help with demand for CLT products in the US.

In other news, condo sales continue to be reasonably brisk in Downtown Vancouver. I believe that long term values of existing condos could see an above average spike as the Waterfront should serve to draw people into the area. Most of the condo units going up in that $1.5 billion project are very high end units in the one to five million dollar range. That will make the units in places like Heritage Place, Frontier Block, Viewpoint, and Parkview very attractive alternatives. It’s a short walk from any of those projects to the new waterfront.

Things are looking fantastic for Urban Living in the ‘Couv’.

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%

Another High Rise Proposed for the Waterfront

Carbon 12 in Portland, OR

The latest news has centered on a Portland firm planning a new high-rise for the waterfront. The Columbian newspaper reported last week the Kaiser Group has proposed a CLT ((cross laminated timber) apartment tower called, “The Trestle.” Perhaps the railroad parlance is in honor of the nearby rail operations for the Port of Vancouver. Kaiser Group is involved with the development of other CLT projects including the Carbon 12. It’s an 8 story CLT building in Portland, which is currently the tallest CLT wood structure in America. This new cross laminated timber structure is proposed for Block 14 with 16 floors and 185 feet tall. The building as proposed would be a little bit taller than the current FAA height restrictions in the area, but Block 14 is far enough west that I would imagine the FAA would be fine with it especially since the building will likely have a narrow elevation profile and the La Farge cement tower is nearby and exceeds 150 feet itself. A 16 story building with only 110 units will not be very wide. We shall see how this one develops, looking like a really nice project. If built it will be taller than the Timberhouse 12 story building proposed on Block 3 and would become the tallest CLT building in the United States. The Trestle, is in the preliminary stages and would be finished in 2023.

Timberhouse from Summit Development

Now that I’ve mentioned the Timberhouse, I haven’t heard anything lately from Summit Development on the progress towards a ground breaking. Summit Development is a bit hush on this project having not updated their website at all in several months. I like the classic style of this project, but I fear that they may be stalled out on it. No news is not good news in this line of business. The last quote I read from Barry Cain at Gramor, back in January, they were planning on breaking ground for Timberhouse this year. Let’s hope they do, there is a lot on money, both public and private riding on this amazing waterfront, the sooner these projects get started, the sooner more local, regional, and national buzz the site receives. Media buzz in this instance is very good.

There is a website that counts tower cranes and measures the economic success of cities based on the number of active cranes operating in the city. Seattle has spent the last few years at the top of the list in the U.S. Let’s get a few more cranes up here in the ‘Couv’.

Block 4 Construction Progress

In other Waterfront news, The progress on Lot 4 seems to be humming along as we ride into spring. I was at the Grand Opening of Fidelity and Chicago Title at the Murdock on Thursday night. That is a nice building to be sure. From the east side the windows look over the construction site for Lot 4 where the Kirkland Tower and Indigo Hotel projects are under construction. I took a photo with my phone, out the window of title officer, Joan Grimm’s east facing office. It shows the underground development on Block 4. These are two subterranean levels of parking for the complex. The 12 story Kirkland Tower condos will rise up on the near side of the block while the 8 story open atrium Indigo Hotel will go up on the far side of the block. The two buildings will be connected to form an almost single structure.

Downtown Vancouver and the Waterfront are the happening spot in the metro area right now, and there is no need take our foot of the accelerator pedal.

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.

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.