The Latest Urban Buzz

Today is chilly with the threat of snow looming, but the urban condo market is seeing more tightening of inventory with 3 pendings and one closing against just one fresh new listing. Now this is not that unusual during the winter as typically listing activity is quiet this time of year. The real test will be the spring time when the normal listing bump happens. Will the buyers soak up the new inventory? I think they will.

The Columbian had an article last week about a pre-app submittal by a Seattle architecture firm on behalf of Alliance Residential in McMinneville, OR. The proposal would include 172 apartment units in a large 6 story building on Block 17 of the Waterfront. 6 stories is the minimum number allowable in the Waterfront. MINIMUM, not maximum. I was figuring that the back side (North) blocks at the west end of the development would house taller structures that could see over the shorter buildings along the water. These west side blocks are the only blocks that are far enough west to clear FAA height restrictions and allow the city height restrictions to take precedent. Vancouver will allow buildings up to 200 feet tall in that area which works out to a 15-20 story residential tower. Of course apartments in a taller tower that offers views over the nearby shorter buildings would come at a premium rent.

I am fully aware that buildings taller than 6-7 floors become increasingly expensive to build. This is a motivating factor the article discusses. However if cost is the reason for building a larger floor plate mid-rise versus a smaller floor plate high-rise I would expect the city to ensure the units are priced more affordable than what has been put in thus far. I’m not suggesting they build low-income housing on a block that costs as much as these blocks sell for, but something a little more in reach of a middle income earner would be nice. Perhaps the owner could pass on the construction savings to future renters. Buildings like these are likely to remain for many decades maybe as long as 100 years. What ever goes in is going to be there essentially forever.

This proposed 6 story tower will not be able to see over the top of any of the buildings in front it. Block 8 is Riverwest at 7 stories, Block 11 is currently surface parking but once the proposed parking garage is built on block 7, block 11 is expected to have a high rise. Block 16 is planned for a 14 story condo tower, Block 18 has a proposal in the permitting process for a 12 story residential tower, and block 20 has a 7 story apartment building under construction.

I am delighted that another block in the Waterfront is getting some interest, I hope that the company proposing this project will give us a middle class apartment option since they are foregoing the “luxury tower” option.

There can be no doubt the Waterfront is a smashing success. Phase 1 is already completely built out or topped out and several projects for Phase 2 are in the planning stages and Block 20 is already under construction. Block 20 and Block 17 are actually part of Phase 3!

I would love to see some followup from Gramor on the projects that have been proposed but seem to be stalled. Timberhouse on Block 3 and the Trestle on Block 14. These two are taller projects with some real gravitas, both being CLT projects from sustainable timber. Timberhouse looks fantastic in the drawings with a modern cross laminated timber build and classic architectural elements featuring three wings of varying heights.

2020 is looking good for urban dwellers in the ‘Couv’.

Activity, Activity, Activity

That title sums it up well about what’s going on in Vancouver’s greater downtown area. It looks like Holland is finally getting started on Tower 4 at Vancouver Center, the construction fencing is up and one of the lanes on Washington Street is blocked for construction access. I believe that tower should go up pretty quick since all of the underground and infrastructure is already in place. Meanwhile the staging area on Block Ten looks ready as well.

Kirkland Tower and the Indigo Hotel are in ‘high-rise’ mode now as they raised the tower crane up to 250 feet recently. They should be working at a feverish pace because the FAA will only allow that crane at that height in that location until the early autumn.

IMG_20190304_120501.jpgI am still wondering why Cascadia Development seems to be motionless, “seems” is the operative word, I have no idea what they are doing behind the scenes regarding the Aria project at 6th and Esther. That project was originally called “The Esther” and was to rise 6 floors with a 144 units, but now has been renamed and will still rise 6 floors but only 127 units. All that has happened externally on this one is the erection of a pretty sign showing the rendering of the project.

The Columbian reported two weeks ago that Waterfront developer Gramor indicated the highly anticipated parking garage structure is on track for sooner, rather than later. 2021 is the new target date for completion. The beautiful weather brought thousands to the waterfront yesterday and all 4 blocks of surface parking were fairly packed. Sooner seems to be the better option. The article indicated the structure would have 740 spaces on 7 levels along with some retail/commercial space and would serve business and public interest at the waterfront. It is further reported it will have a pleasant looking design to flow with properties underway and built already. It is planned for Block 7 just north of the new Riverwest Apartment building.

I have mentioned over the last several months that the city needs to be mindful of our local homeless population. This is a sensitive subject and one that tests our very humanity. Many people due to either circumstances beyond their control or to their own poor choices, find themselves on the streets.

Last summer a very large group of homeless camps were concentrated in an area Downtown west of the County Government Center and east of the rail yard. That entire area was filled with hundreds of homeless tent sites and it was to say the least, a health risk area. That region is a very short walk to the new Waterfront as well as Esther Short Park. Millions of dollars of public funds have been used for infrastructure and tax incentives for redevelopment and it is imperative that we not allow these public spaces to be overrun with homeless and unsanitary conditions.

Much to my surprise, I noticed this weekend as I was driving around the area, nary a single tent was erected. The city is making a push to create a destination zone and that will fail should the area start looking like Portland’s waterfront. Perhaps Vancouver’s ambitious redevelopment of the former Fish and Wildlife office near Fourth Plain and Grand into a homeless shelter and service center has helped get many of these people off the streets. That is good for the homeless people and good for the downtown and new waterfront.

Things are looking good and that will bring companies, residents, tourists, and businesses to our bustling downtown region.


Excellent Sales Activity!

This week saw a pretty nice run of Pending and Closed sale son urban condos across a broad range of pricing. Several units in Northwynd at Columbia Shores either closed or went pending this week. A couple of pending sales in Shorewood as well as Parkview at Vancouver Center. In the upper range a unit went pending at Tidewater in the $1 million range and two nice units at Viewpoint $699k and $950k went pending this week.

Things are looking strong for Vancouver USA and the urban condo market. If the economy can continue to push favorably forward this summer should bode well as the Waterfront project continues to bring more exciting restaurants, services and development to the area.

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 šŸ˜‰

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.

Activity Up, Prices Steady

Downtown Vancouver is seeing some robust activity in the low to middle priced urban condo market right now. New units have come online over the last couple of weeks but units are selling as well. There has been a sizable load of activity in the Parkview Condo Tower at 701 Columbia this year.

Parkview is in the unique position of offering relatively affordable units that can beĀ purchased for less than or very near to the price of a rental unit. In fact the building just south of Parkview is a nearly identical but slightly shorter tower with all rental units.

I believe the excitement over the waterfront and the local tight rental market has put positive pressure on the entry-level to mid-priced condos and Parkview is where most of those are located in the downtown core area.

In other urban living news, Riverwest Apartments are very near complete. I would imagine they will start leasing soon with delivery sometime in the late spring.

Kirkland Project now Rising above Street Level

I went to the Maryhill Winery opening this past weekend and they have a lovely tasting room on block 12 next to Twigs Bistro. I noticed the Kirkland project progress as I drove by.

Most of the underground infrastructure and parking are complete and the Kirkland Tower and Hotel Indigo structures are rising above the street now. Generally these types of tallish buildings have a slow start building the ground support and elevator towers before the steel frame rises. Once the base structure is in place things start to move fast. The building goes up fairly quickly from this point.

According to reports from Gramor, the Waterfront developer and Kirkland the block 4 project developer, The 8 story Hotel Indigo will be completed first followed by the 12 story Kirkland Tower. Both will be built simultaneously however.

I am intrigued by both of these projects. The hotel is quite possibly going to be the nicest in town. Built with an interior open atrium design and an El Gaucho location the project is aiming pretty high. They are also putting in a ‘sky lounge’ on the 8th floor. Kirkland Tower is a condo building that will be directly connected to the hotel structure and owners will have access to some of the hotel’s amenities and services. The project will have underground parking shared with the hotel, but also featuring a stackable parking setup which will be unique in Vancouver. This parking arrangement lifts one car up on a rack allowing another to be parked underneath.

The real test is the pricing on the units. Rumors are circulating that the larger units, which are not really going to be that big maybe 1600-1800 SF will be listed in the $4 million plus range. Now to be clear, Vancouver USA has condos that have sold in these upper reaches of pricing, mostly in the Tidewater project to the east. But those are much larger units some with 4000 SF. If Kirkland can get these units sold in that price range, it does bode well for the success of the grand waterfront as a whole.

Some reports show that there are some who are concerned with the high pricing on units so far, and to be fair they have a point, but equally fair is the point that so far the structures going up are right on the water. These are the most premium lots in the project, one should expect higher end uses. As the project builds out to the lots further back off the water, I would estimate that units will start going in with more modest middle-income pricing. Patience is important in these matters.

Part of building a community that is fresh and exciting is luring in some big dollars to boost the local economy and this project is certainly doing that quite well.

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 bizĀ 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’.

El Gaucho coming to Indigo on the Waterfront

Vancouver’s new waterfront development just got some serious restaurant street cred with the announcement that El Gaucho will have a new restaurant located inside the new Indigo Hotel currently under construction on block 4. El Gaucho has four other locations, Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma, and Portland. The Columbian reported on the announcment and added that El Gaucho will also run the ‘Sky Lounge’ planned for the eighth floor.

El Gaucho prides itself in table side preparation of dishes, high quality ingredients and a formal attire worn by the wait staff. EntreƩs are going to be higher than most, if not all other eateries in the Vancouver area.

I have been to the Portland location located in the Benson Hotel a number of times, all were either very special occasions or business events. For most El Gaucho is reserved for special events like a 25th wedding anniversary, or another milestone occasion as those menu prices can be cost prohibitive for middle-income earners. But the idea of being able to stay local rather than making a run down to Portland for El Gaucho, Ruth Criss, City Grill, etc. just adds to the power of the positive transformation happening on the waterfront that transcends the local project to benefit the whole county.

Some will bemoan the high values of property being erected and the higher end nature of the shops and restaurants, but one can’t expect the most premium real estate in the metro area to be used for second-hand shops, fast food, dive diners, and cheap apartments. It doesn’t work that way. There is a strong economic impact created on these types of developments that helps everyone on the economic ladder. Although most of the construction workers, electricians, plumbers, and other middle-income service providers cannot afford to live in the units being built, the billions of dollars being spent on their services may very well allow them to buy a new place of their own, or move up to the better living arrangement. Washington-based contractors should be loving this since travelling to Oregon for jobs is time-consuming and carries a heavy tax burden.

This waterfront will be a positive for the whole region, and will even prop up the whole Downtown area as it builds out. Remember, We are only at less than half built through the first of three phases to be built over the next 8-10 years.

I only hope our city leaders will do their very best to start using this exciting new development to attract some large employers to the area. Jobs are always a good boost for local economic conditions and getting 20-30 thousand of the 60 thousand plus who commute across the bridges to Portland back on ‘our side’ of the river is good for our local tax base and very good for our residents. Not to mention the reduced traffic load on the bridge.

I’ll be writing about Oregon’s aggressive highway tolling plan and the fact some Portland leaders are trying to target Washingtonians that cross the river to work. If Vancouver leaders play it right, we could get Portland employers to move over here. But they must be aggressive as well.

New Proposal for Waterfront Block 20

The Columbian reported yesterday that San Francisco based, Jackson Square Properties has submitted a proposal for lot 20 at the waterfront. Jackson Square is no stranger to Vancouver having developed property in Vancouver already. All of the properties they did locally are more suburban style low-rise apartment complexes, so this represents something a bit more ambitious for them. In fact I couldn’t find any residential building they did anywhere with more than 4 floors.

That mentioned, the proposal is for a 7 story apartment building with 230 plus units and underground parking for 250 spaces. This project is proposed for a phase three area of the waterfront that was planned for later development beginning in 2021. They want to break ground next year. Of course lot 20 is at the far western end of the waterfront development area right up against the park and riverfront. It is a premium lot but the original idea was to reserve those western lots for taller structures since they have a higher height allowance under the FAA imposed height restrictions. At least that seems to be the case when looking at the master plan.

I suppose a shorter building at that location would help keep the value of the two blocks behind it (north) as those could have a taller structure overlooking this proposed building. I also like the idea of getting as much development done while the economy is still hot and developers and investors are excited about new projects.

I would imagine some renderings will emerge in the next few days giving us a peek at what may become of Block 20.