Downtown building boom strains at land, labour limitations

Saturday, January 10th, 2004

DEVELOPMENT I To meet rising demand, major developers look at billion-dollar projects

Wyng Chow

(Left) Peter Wall’s Yaletown Park, comprising 880 units in three towers on Mainland. (Right) Model of new Chinatown residential development.

Model of mixed use plan at 550 Bute

Billions of dollars worth of residential projects are breaking ground this year in Greater Vancouver, particularly in the city’s downtown core, as developers try to keep up with a seemingly insatiable demand for new housing.

And development industry representatives say the construction boom would be even greater except for an acute shortage of available building sites and skilled workers.

“Land supply is definitely a limiting factor and skilled trades people are hard to come by,” said Cameron Muir, senior Vancouver market analyst for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.

“That’s slowing down development, but the Lower Mainland’s residential market will still be robust, posting solid gains in 2004.”

In releasing its year-end summary and forecast, CMHC projects new housing starts to hit 16,600 units this year, up 6.2 per cent from 15,626 actual starts in 2003.

Multi-family construction — mostly condominiums — now account for more than half of all new construction.

“Consumers are flocking to condos,” Muir said Friday. “The combination of affordability, location and lifestyle that a typical condominium offers is prompting significant interest among home buyers.

“While first-time buyers and investors are obvious purchasers, empty-nesters are increasingly trading in their big suburban homes for amenity-laden townhouses and apartments.”

Multiple Listing Service figures show 14,843 condo units totalling more than $3.2 billion sold in Greater Vancouver in 2003, compared to 11,967 units totalling $2.365 billion the previous year.

Meanwhile, the number of available units dropped to 2,358 at year-end, down 21 per cent from 3,007 active listings the year before.

To meet the rising demand, various major developers are bringing on several billion dollars worth of new product in 2004.

Among them:

? Wall Financial Corp. is launching 880 residential units, called Yaletown Park, at 901 Mainland, comprising three towers of 34, 32 and 30 storeys, along with some retail space and a public park. While marketing isn’t due to start until late February, there are already more than 200 people on a waiting list.

? In partnership with Macdonald Development Corp., developer Peter Wall is also building 423 condos at the Hudson, at Granville and Dunsmuir.

? Concord Pacific Group has started construction on its mixed-use project at 651 Expo Boulevard, across from General Motors Place. The commercial component includes a 144,725-square-foot Costco retail outlet, while the residential portion is made up of four condo towers totalling 900 dwelling units.

? Henderson Development (Canada) Ltd. is launching the latest phase of its International Village development at Abbott and Keefer, consisting of residential towers of 31 and 25 storeys, along with a six-storey mid-rise building and some retail space.

? Amacon will be constructing a mixed-use project at 550 Bute, including a 40-storey residential tower with 270 condos, and a 12-storey “boutique” hotel of about 60 rooms, along with about 8,000 square feet of retail space.

? Bluetree Management is building a 25-storey condo tower at 1616 Bayshore Drive, along with an eight-storey non-market residential building and a 47-person daycare facility.

? Polygon Group is constructing its 150-unit condo tower, the Bentley, at Homer and Nelson, as well as 92 new townhomes and condos at its Marguerite House at Quilchena Park, Arbutus and West 33rd.

Meanwhile, Concert Properties is currently negotiating with the YMCA to be co-developers of the Y’s existing downtown site at Burrard and Nelson. The proposed redevelopment calls for a residential tower and new premises for the YMCA, including health and fitness facilities, expanded community meeting spaces, adult education centre, and improved space for rehabilitation programs.

“The sale of density for the [condo] tower to the developer, as well as a planned capital campaign, will provide the YMCA with the resources required for this community amenity,” said association general manager Richard Pass.

“The new YMCA will likely be built right away, while the capital campaign is underway.”

Among other downtown projects this year, Concord is planning to build a floating office building in False Creek to service a new marina at the foot of Homer.

Mohtadi Holdings is constructing a nine-storey, mixed-used building at 531 Beatty, containing 40 residential units, with retail and parking uses at street level.

Because of a shrinking land bank — especially in Vancouver’s popular downtown core — developers are now engaging in bidding wars for building lots, shelling out more than $100 per buildable square foot for land — double the prices from only a couple of years ago.

CMHC figures show new housing construction in Greater Vancouver in 2003 totalled 15,626 units, up 18.4 per cent over 13,197 units the previous year.

Using an industry multiplier of 2.8 equivalent fulltime jobs for one year for every new start, the year-over-year increase of 2,429 units resulted in 6,801 more construction jobs in 2003 than a year earlier.

“This generated an enormous economic boost in the region,” said Peter Simpson, chief operating officer for the Greater Vancouver Home Builders Association, which represents 410 companies in the Lower Mainland’s construction industry.

Of the 15,626 new starts last year, condos accounted for 10,244 units, up almost 25 per cent from 8,217 units in 2002.

“The more than 2,000-unit increase in condominium starts signals a healthy return of consumer confidence in this popular form of housing,” Simpson said. “With low interest rates and the impending release of a variety of new projects, we expect this trend to continue well into 2004.”

Simpson noted, however, that any significant increase in housing starts this year could be repressed by the shortage of skilled trades.

To minimize the potential for delayed completion dates, he urged developers to secure and schedule all necessary construction workers well in advance of starting any projects.

“We are working closely with educators to encourage students to consider career opportunities in construction,” Simpson said. “Carpentry, plumbing, electrical and other skills will be in great demand for home construction, as well as the many projects required for the 2010 Olympics.”

© Copyright  2004 Vancouver Sun

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