Could Molson brewery site work as a tech hub?

Brewery site is currently zoned industrial, but new owners envision mixed-use technology facility


Vancouver’s Molson brewery site at the south foot of the Burrard Bridge was bought by Concord Pacific for $185 million late last year | Chung Chow

Beer on site. Bike lanes.

Proximity to a chic neighbourhood.

If the new owners were to leave Vancouver’s Molson brewery untouched at the foot of the Burrard Bridge, it might have all the trappings any millennial tech worker could ask for.

And at least on paper, that’s part of the reason Concord Pacific is paying a hefty price.

When the B.C. developer was revealed in April as the mystery buyer behind last November’s $185 million property sale, Concord said it would turn the industrial site into a “mixed-use residential neighbourhood.”

The mixed-use element includes plans for a new tech hub to join the many others already in the works across Vancouver.

“Concord’s long-term vision is to attract knowledge-based local and global tech companies to this site,” the company said in a statement.

“Concord owns and operates Maximizer, a Vancouver-based IT company, Novus Entertainment, a local telecom company servicing thousands of households in Vancouver as well as Concord Green Energy with green power generating projects across the [country].”

But the Molson land is zoned for industrial use – one of the city’s top priorities amid dwindling supply – and the City of Vancouver hasn’t received any applications to change that.

Blair Quinn, an executive vice-president at CBRE’s high-technology facilities group, said the tech industry has to be keyed into the age group that makes up most of its workforce, millennials, if it wants to be able to attract and retain talent.

“Neighbourhoods have to be so convenient to where these people live,” said Kevin Nelson, a senior vice-president at CBRE. “[The Molson site is] an amazing location, but it’s not as well supported by transit right now.”

The City of Vancouver has been pushing for more funding to pay for a proposed underground SkyTrain line running parallel to Broadway just a few blocks away. Last year’s failed transit plebiscite stalled such plans, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged in the Liberals’ March budget to cover 50% of costs for major infrastructure projects in a bid to stimulate the economy.

“By putting a tech hub there, now it just kind of encloses this larger sort of ecosystem,” said Keith Ippel, CEO of the Spring University tech startup incubator/accelerator program.

Ippel’s office is at Broadway and Granville, not too far from the Molson site.

He pointed out that tech start­ups began popping up in Yaletown before they moved east to Gastown and Railtown. With Hootsuite now calling Mount Pleasant home, the migration is now moving south to the neighbourhoods around False Creek.

“The creative and knowledge-based sector is already acknowledging False Creek is the next frontier,” Quinn said.

“You’re going to see some major announcements in the next few months.”

False Creek Flats is already home to the Centre for Digital Media and the BC Technology Industry Association’s Innovation Hub.

Mount Pleasant’s transformation into “Mount Pixel” is also attracting visual effects and animation houses like Gener8 and DHX Media.

Meanwhile, the City of Vancouver has been attempting to turn its old Downtown Eastside police station at Main and Cordova streets into a tech and social innovation hub.

The Vancity Community Foundation is the project’s landlord, and Andy Broderick, Vancity’s vice-president of impact market development, told Business in Vancouver last December he hoped to have the new hub open by November 2016 with the first tenant announced by January 2016.

No tenants have been announced yet, but in an email to BIV, Broderick said Vancity now plans to announce the first tenant by late May or June.

“One of the lessons learned by the city is that it’s hard to pre-market or pre-sell a building that isn’t done,” Ippel said, adding he still sees potential for the Main Street site despite concerns about safety and transit other tech leaders have expressed.

torton@biv.com

@reporton