Students compete over plan for Coquitlam Centre makeover

Hometown proud

NAIOP Vancouver hosted the Pacific Northwest Real Estate Challenge for the first time in its 14-year history, and students from the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Sauder School of Business – not for the first time – fielded the winning proposal against teams from the University of Washington in Seattle and Portland State University (PSU) in Portland.

UBC students proposed a 10-tower development for the 14-acre site located at the corner of Lougheed and Barnet highways in Coquitlam. Provided by TransLink, the site is home to a transit exchange that the transit operator eventually hopes to redevelop.

All the proposals reflected the desire for a mixed-use, high-density development that would create a sense of place while generating a healthy, ongoing return for TransLink.

The winning proposal outlined a development with 10 residential towers (three of them rentals) as well as 47,000 square feet of office space and 136,000 square feet of retail space anchored by a cinema complex (a nod to the success of PCI Group’s award-winning Marine Gateway development). A landmark, 55-storey tower would mark the Coquitlam Centre site as the centre of Coquitlam in the proposal.

While the PSU team sought to integrate all forms of traffic, Whistler inspired UBC students to propose separating pedestrian traffic entirely from vehicular activity. The University of Washington’s team, meanwhile, aimed for a porous form of construction where people pour from transit onto a central plaza and “everyone can come together.”

Don’t count on seeing the student visions come to fruition any time soon, however.

Guy Akester, director of real estate partnerships at TransLink, said the competition is a starting point for an extensive consultation and public approvals process that students felt could take anywhere from three to five years.

“They haven’t found their development rut, so you get a lot of great ideas,” he said. “[They] allow me to start a really good conversation with the local municipality on what the future of that site might look like.”

(Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart was on hand to see the students present at the most recent NAIOP breakfast meeting, giving him food for thought, too.)

Akester expects it will be at least seven years before shovels hit the ground, because the Tri-Cities need to absorb the impact of the SkyTrain Evergreen Extension, which opened in December.

“We need to understand what the new commuting patterns look like,” Akester said. “Once we know what that is – and that will be a couple of years – we can begin the entitlements process.”

Strata data

With strong interest in new strata commercial projects such as One Burrard Place by Reliance Properties Ltd. and Cardero at 1575 West Georgia, a venture of Bosa Properties Inc. and Arpeg Holdings Ltd., tenant representation firm Newmark Knight Frank Devencore highlights the opportunities for tenants in its latest office market report.

“We get the question all the time: ‘It’s great that the Caisse [de dépôt et placement du Québec] bought an office building downtown or some big Chinese insurance group bought Bentall [Centre], that’s great. But we want to know what we can buy,’” Mark Annable, a senior adviser to Devencore, said.

With a smaller budget than institutional investors, many office users – in a market where lease deals average 4,000 square feet – aren’t looking to buy a whole tower. The biggest recent transaction was Surrey-based Safe Software Inc.’s purchase of 45,000 square feet in Lark Group’s City Centre 2 development in Surrey. By contrast, Burrard Place sold 45 strata lots from 400 to 2,200 square feet.

Devencore, using BC Assessment data, reports a total of 1,100 commercial strata lots in downtown Vancouver. The majority of these are retail space, with just a fraction geared to traditional office occupants.