Harbouring big ambitions

Vancouver is no stranger to awards. The scenic maritime city on Canada’s west coast, virtually encircled by water and overlooked by the North Shore Mountains, is regularly ranked high in Canadian and North American “most popular place” leagues, and only last year it was named by the Economist Intelligence Unit as the world’s most desirable place to live.

Historically, the city’s strategic importance as a gateway to the east and west saw it coveted and laid claim to by both Spain and Britain. But it was in the 20th century that it really boomed, with a 10-fold growth in population to about 590,000 residents today. Heavy shipbuilding gave way to a trading- and tourism-based economy, which has been boosted by its status as the host of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

Until the end of this summer, the property market was also buzzing – with 12 homes selling for more than C$5m (£2.7m) – but it has weakened in recent months and “we don’t know when the bottom will be reached”, admits David Malkin of estate agency Re/Max. Still, agents and residents are confident about the city’s long-term prospects.

“Many aspects make Vancouver an ideal place to live in or have a vacation condo,” says John Botti, a native New Yorker and former London resident who moved to the city several years ago. “The weather is moderate – not too hot, not too cold – and the city is also extremely tolerant and diverse. The people are genuine, friendly and international.”

Darren Burns, a long-term resident and principal at architectural practice Stantec, agrees: “The city’s appeal is the environment and setting,” he says. “There is only so much land and as a result you have an incredible amount of density packed into a small and limited amount of space, which creates a lively and vibrant city with activity on the streets at all hours, much like New York and London. Development has been on fire for the past six years, in part due to the Olympics and in part because people just want to live here. Certainly, we have seen our fair share of revitalisation in the construction of legacy facilities and urban infrastructure. And most of it has been built within a mode of sustainability.”

One area that has been completely transformed in the past decade is Coal Harbour, an area on the water with the city’s financial district to the south and Stanley Park to the north. Where once there was shipbuilding and its associated industries, there are now dozens of glass-fronted, high-rise condominium developments. A typical example of the area’s residential offerings is an elegant, open-plan, three-bedroom, two-bathroom corner apartment with a balcony overlooking the marina, park and mountains at 1717 Bayshore Drive, listed at C$3.1m through Re/Max. But “the really big new-build story in Coal Harbour is Three Harbour Green, a project of 81 two- to four-bedroom apartments and townhouses that is the last development that will take place there,” says Malkin. “If you want to be in Coal Harbour, this is your last chance.” Prices start from C$2.5m.

Downtown, the big success story is Yaletown, a former warehouse area on the waterfront north of False Creek, where attractive red-brick buildings have been converted into lofts, restaurants and boutiques with the uber-fashionable Opus Hotel at its heart. This faces another former light industrial area, Granville Island, across the creek, which is now an enclave of shops and workshops, collected around a first-class fruit, vegetable and bric-a-brac market that serves as a slightly offbeat meeting place for left-of-centre locals and tourists. “It’s a rich mix of old and new architecture, loft-style housing, converted warehouses, retail, restaurants and hotels,” Burns says.

Prices have shot up in recent years but are still relatively reasonable and should become more so given the current economic climate. A one-bedroom condominium with a separate room big enough for a sofa-bed purchased 18 months ago for C$395,000 is now on the market for C$419,000 through Re/Max.

There are still up-and-coming areas of Vancouver as well. To the east of Yaletown is Gastown. Right now, it is rundown and pretty rough – most of the city’s homeless and feckless congregate here – but the buildings are solid and attractive Victorian constructions and the area is five minutes’ walk from the waterfront at Canada Place and five minutes’ drive from Coal Harbour. Burns describes it as a neighbourhood to watch. “It has all the richness of Yaletown and more,” he says, and “there is a huge amount of proposed development that will happen in this area well into the future.”

The latest wave of development is meanwhile in Downtown East, with Woodward’s Condos, a project with 500 market-price residences and 200 social housing units plus shops, city-owned space for non-profit groups and Simon Fraser University’s new School for Contemporary Arts, scheduled to be completed by 2010.

According to Malkin, all the units were sold off-plan within a couple of days of coming on to the market at prices higher than C$200,000. “Occasionally, resales come on to the market and once Woodward’s is finished I’m sure there will be more,” he adds. Currently for sale for C$309,900 in the area is a 53-sq-metre loft apartment with balcony in the Carrall Station building, which has a live-in caretaker, exercise room and bicycle storage.

However, the most visible new project in Vancouver has to be Millennium Water, located at the heart of south-east False Creek riverfront. Dubbed the city’s last waterfront community, it is also expected to be the first in Canada to achieve a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (Leed) Gold rating. It will incorporate a tidal island “the size of a football pitch” to be created off the Cambie Bridge on the south shore to serve as a home for birds and other wildlife. And, on the housing front, an Olympic athletes’ village is being developed on part of the site with a view to being regenerated after the games. Construction has already begun on 1,100 residential units, including 730 condominiums and townhouses, and 185 marina homes, from studios to three-bedroom apartments with dens, have already been released for sale at prices from C$479,000.


1717 Bayshore Drive, Coal Harbour www.coalharbouroasis.com
Millennium Water, tel: +1 604 733 2010 www.milenniumwater.com
Re/Max, tel: +1 604 737 8865 www.davidmalkin.com
Three Green Harbour, www.harbourgreenplace.com
Woodwards, tel: +1 604 781 7109 www.woodwardsdistrict.com
Vancouver Condos, tel: +1 604 999 9426 www.vancouvercondo.ca

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