City will sell Woodwards — but keep control of landmark

Thursday, February 19th, 2004

The historic site will be developed by one of four short-listed companies

Frances Bula

VANCOUVER – B08Vancouver council has crafted a unique strategy for developing the former Woodward’s store by proposing to sell it to one of four short-listed developers while retaining control over the project by being a participating investor.

That will allow the city to shape the project to fit certain social goals, guarantee the developer financial stability by investing whatever it gets as a purchase price back into the building, and give the city some space it can provide to non-profit groups.

As well, it has had preliminary talks with the federal government to work out an agreement where the federal government would agree to match the amount of space the city takes in the new building.

The developer for the former department store, once the heart of downtown Vancouver and now seen as a key to revitalizing the socially scarred Downtown Eastside, will be chosen from among four companies that were shortlisted in a report going to council Tuesday.

The four, chosen from 10 original applicants: are Concert Properties, financed by union pension funds; the Holborn Group, which owns the rest of the property on the Woodward’s block; Millennium Properties, a high-end housing developer; and Westbank Projects, which recently developed the Shaw tower and the city’s first 200-metre tower.

Councillor Jim Green, who co-chairs the city’s Woodward’s project committee, said every one of the developers is highly qualified. “They’re all people we can rely on. They’re very well known and they’ve done some very large projects.”

He said he’s also very happy with the decision to have the city act as a participating investor in the project, rather than selling it outright with no controls, or trying to develop the project by itself.

“It’s the best of all possible worlds,” he said. “The city doesn’t have any risk” yet it is able to maintain a significant amount of say in how the project develops.

Green said councillors debated all the pros and cons of selling outright or developing the project alone, but ultimately people were unanimous about the “relatively custom-made” solution of having the city sell it but retain an interest by buying back part of the project.

If the city can get $10 million to $11 million as a purchase price — approximately double what it paid the provincial government for the vacant store almost a year ago — that would give it at least a 10-per-cent stake in the project, which has been estimated to cost anywhere from $70 to $100 million to develop.

Besides selecting four developers to proceed to the next stage, where they submit more detailed proposals, the city will also embark on a lengthy set of consultations with the public, its own urban design panel, heritage advisers, and other participating groups to set out the basic framework for the project.

Developers will be asked to submit two designs, one that provides the 180,000 square feet Simon Fraser University would like to have, and one without.

That’s in case SFU is unable to complete the fund-raising to carry that off, says Mike Flanigan, Woodward’s project manager.

They will also have to work with two other major clients, Army & Navy and Vancouver Community College, to incorporate them into the design.

The city is expecting to award the project to one successful bidder July 20.

Three social-housing groups were also shortlisted for the project, which has 100 units of social housing committed by the provincial government:

Affordable Housing, the largest social-housing non-profit in the city; Columbia Housing; and PHS Community Services, which operates a number of buildings in the Downtown Eastside for the hard to house.

© The Vancouver Sun 2004

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