Oxford Properties puts four Vancouver sites on the market; Surrey’s population growth second only to Brampton, Ontario

Oxford Properties Group has put a national portfolio of data centres on the block.

A strong market for office properties promises robust demand for this call centre and other properties Oxford Properties Group owns in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood

Oxford Properties Group has put a national portfolio of data centres on the block.

Of the portfolio’s seven properties, three are on the block bounded by Main and Quebec streets and East 4th and East 5th avenues in Vancouver. A fourth is opposite the block at 110 East 5th Avenue.

The buildings include the premises of Business in Vancouver, as well as an electronic data centre and an RBC call centre.

“The portfolio is going to attract everybody, from people who provide data – because they may have an opportunity to buy these facilities and redo them – to developers, to people who want to hold [for] income and develop down the road,” said Bob Levine, principal in the Vancouver office of Avison Young, which holds the listing. “It’s going to appeal to a very diverse group of people.”

Several of the properties have “significant redevelopment potential,” according to the listing brochure. Business in Vancouver’s offices, for example, are in a single-storey building built in 1960 with just 37% site coverage, while 2015 Main Street could accommodate a six-storey residential building under the Mount Pleasant community plan.

Moreover, many of the buildings have an industrial appearance hardly evocative of the “eyes on the street” philosophy that city planners sought to encourage as Yaletown and other parts of the downtown core were redeveloped.

“If you started with a clean slate, you’d probably knock down most of the buildings,” Levine said.

An exception would be 111 East 5th Avenue, a brick-clad building built in 1978. Still, even here Levine said more windows wouldn’t necessarily be appropriate for some uses.

“You may look at ways at putting in more windows, although for some of the types of users that would want that space, more windows is not a good thing,” he said. “They’re trying to reduce the amount of glaring light because it affects their computer screens.”

A call to Oxford regarding the motive for the sale was not returned prior to deadline.

A timeline for the sale is not set. The portfolio hit the market last week, and Avison Young expects it to be another month before it has a sense of how soon the process might complete.

Retail split

Growth of municipalities outside Vancouver is tipping the balance of retail trade in favour of suburbs, according to a recent report by Colliers International Consulting.

The report, by David Bell and Jim Smerdon – two longtime observers of retail market trends – focuses on population growth as an indicator of future retail demand. With 38% of growth nationally happening in Western Canada, the four western provinces have an edge, especially resource-rich Alberta and Saskatchewan. Per-capita retail spending (excluding gas) in these two provinces led Canada last year at $15,267 and $13,141, respectively.

By contrast, B.C. rang up per-capita sales in 2011 of $11,990.

But within the province, population growth in Surrey was second only to Brampton, Ontario, at 3.5%, exceeding that of Edmonton and Calgary.

“By virtue of this growth, there will be opportunities,” Bell said. “Clearly, when you’re growing as fast as Surrey, that’s creating opportunities either for expansion of existing shopping centres or introduction of new [centres].”

Ivanhoe Cambridge is proceeding with the redevelopment of Guildford Town Centre, for example, while Target will replace the Zellers at Central City. Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s are also seeking opportunities in Canada, and growth in Surrey makes it a conceivable location.

The action is in stark contrast to downtown, where office uses have been considered for the Sears location when it shuts later this year.

“There’s all sorts of interesting things happening downtown,” Bell said, “but as far as larger scale redevelopment or new centres, they’re happening in strategic locations in the suburbs.”

One project Bell will be watching closely is the redevelopment of Oakridge Centre, another Ivanhoe Cambridge project that’s under discussion. The plans, approved in 2007, call for boosting retail space to 950,000 square feet from the current 619,000.

Public input is being sought on what should be developed on the site, in view of rapid transit developments and desires for affordable housing and other community needs. •