On Friday, October 26th we interviewed a knowledgeable Vancouver-based insider about the eventual redevelopment of Vancouver’s Downtown Canada Post building.
We previously reported that Canada Post in Downtown Vancouver will be redeveloped. The building is located on an entire city block (about 3 acres in size) in Downtown Vancouver. The federal-government-owned property is being offered for sale by CBRE commercial real estate brokers and may include a significant retail component. Our insider agreed to be interviewed on this sale and potential development on the condition that they remain anonymous. They provided us with some very interesting information.
This is ‘Part One’ of our interview. In a nutshell, our insider thinks the site will be re-zoned so that the current building can be demolished and new retail and residential towers can be built in its place.
Retail Insider: Will the current building be torn down or modified?
Insider X: The last thing a developer wants is for the site to be designated as a ‘heritage site’ so that the current building has to be kept. Developers would ideally take this site with its full development potential. The site has a current density zoning of 7.0 FSR (Floor-Space Ratio, meaning 3 acres x 7 = allowable development size) and this could be upgraded through either re-zoning or via a city-sanctioned density increase. It’s also in the seller’s best interest that the site be re-zoned.
Retail Insider: What do you mean by re-zoning?
Insider X: The site can be rezoned from its current density and use – generally commercial-only in a zoning area of C1 – to a more liberal zoning of CD-1, allowing for more flexible uses including residential towers.
Retail Insider: If this rezoning were allowed, would the entire project just be condo towers?
Insider X: Not likely. There would possibly be a significant residential component to the project, but you would also possibly see some major retail players try to take space in the development. Walmart, Target, Marshall’s, and (La) Maison Simons all want locations in Downtown Vancouver. The Canada Post site could facilitate one or several of these, along with other stores and uses.
Retail Insider: Walmart would want to be in Downtown Vancouver?
Insider X: Possibly. Walmart is starting to build stores called ‘City Walmart’ in cities like Chicago. These are smaller stores and in the case of Walmart, focus more on food.
Retail Insider: And Target?
Insider X: Target is also opening urban stores, again, in Chicago and Manhattan. Numerous other urban Targets are in the works. Watch for an announcement soon for Downtown Toronto, as well. Target is actively searching for a Downtown Vancouver location and has mentioned this site.
Retail Insider: Do you see La Maison Simons’ first Vancouver store being Downtown? They tend to locate in the suburbs, from what I see on their website.
Insider X: Simons wants to be Downtown. Despite its suburban-oriented stores, Simons sees the critical shopping mass of Downtown Vancouver. There aren’t many other places in the Lower Mainland where it would succeed. Oakridge and Metrotown are the only two locations I can think of and the average Metrotown shopper is likely too lowbrow for Simons. Ivanhoe Cambridge (owner of Metrotown) will soon bring forward a redevelopment proposal of its Oakridge Shopping Centre, and I’m not sure yet if there would be room for a ~100,000 square foot Simons.
Retail Insider: How likely is it that the current Post Office will be designated a ‘heritage building’? We remember the old Public Library (now soon to be Victoria’s Secret) and the former BC Hydro Building (now a condo tower) were designated as heritage properties, while each were built only in the 1950’s.
Insider X: Canada Post was built in either 1956 or 1958. Its exterior might have to be preserved on the Georgia Street side, but it should be fair game to be demolished otherwise. As I mentioned, developers and the landlord will fight to ensure the entire site can be redeveloped, as this would be most economical and profitable.
Retail Insider: Is there a height limit for this site? How would that affect potential redevelopment?
Insider X: The current zoning allows for a height up to about 450 feet. The site sits in a view cone, however, meaning height could be restricted to about half that amount. View cones are a pain for Vancouver developers (X chuckles) and some city counselors only support them so they don’t lose votes. Height limits and view cones are a detriment to this city, in my opinion.
Retail Insider: Do you think Vancouver City Counsel will stop the teardown of the Post Office?
Insider X: You didn’t hear this from me (X chuckles) but a lot of these deals are done way before the public is even consulted. The Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts for example. Also the Granville Loops. All of those decisions were made way before the public were consulted. Public consultation is a great way to make voters think they have a say.
Retail Insider: You mean no matter what we do, Canada Post might be a goner?
Insider X: I won’t say just yet, but don’t be surprised when you hear an announcement about a significant complete redevelopment of this city block.
***UPDATE: Due to Hurricane Sandy, we will be delaying our publication of Part Two of this interview until Wednesday, October 31st.***