Michael Chiang is a fresh young face in B.C.’s real estate sector, and he’s taking a fresh approach to B.C.’s industrial developments. Chiang is less than 30, but he is already a second generation veteran developer. He is all-Vancouver in his approach to life, and you can see that in the profile of the new buildings going up under his Union Allied brand – structures that empathize with their neighbourhoods, respect their interaction with people and wear a snappy metro aesthetic.
In just a few short years, Union Allied has launched a variety of projects in Vancouver and beyond, both in industrial and residential. Current projects include Vanguard Strata, a multi-storey stacked industrial development in Richmond; a five-story industrial complex going up at 1290 Clark and 1308 Adanac; Monogram, a sold-out townhome complex at Grandview-Woodland; and, an upcoming housing project overlooking Comox Bay on Vancouver Island.
Each of them is built on a foundation of values Chiang grew up with. “I’ve travelled a lot, but I always love coming home,” he says. “I think there’s something about Vancouver that makes people want to stay. We have a great urban vibe together with mountains, golf, snowboarding, the water and all the recreation you could ever want. And there’s a personality that grows inside all that. We tend to live our lives based on how we feel and Vancouver feels good, relaxed and safe, and that’s not an easy combination to find.”
Chiang was born into the real estate development world. His parents were active in the industry, and he became a real estate agent at a young age to help the family business, but it wasn’t yet his passion. Drawn to circuits and pulses, he studied electrical engineering at UBC. Shortly after his start in the engineering field, he realized he wanted to be involved in city building.
“I realized that I like seeing something physically get built and being part of that,” he says. “I like talking to people every day, seeing people. I like a lot of change in my life. When I was in electrical engineering, I was doing something useful and helping the world, but it didn’t feed my passion.”
His parents offered a career homecoming by offering up some industrial properties that needed to be redeveloped. “They challenged me to come up with something,” says Chiang.
Chiang grew up watching the care and consideration his parents put into building single-family homes, so he looked at their industrial properties through the same lens. He didn’t imagine a giant, impersonal box that would do no more than comply with zoning minimums. Instead, he asked himself: how does this fit within the neighbourhood? What opportunities does it represent for the community?
“All our buildings start off with a vision,” he says. “We imagine the buyers and what they would want, and our designs incorporate those visions. Once we do that, it helps us target who might want to join the project as a tenant. We like to curate businesses that believe in our development and appreciate the location and what it has to offer.”
Alliance on Vanguard, for example, is Richmond’s first stacked industrial complex, with a full array of bay doors, industrial-grade freight elevators, open-concept showrooms and warehouses, office space, ample natural light and 23-foot ceilings. More than half of its 200,000 square feet is already pre-sold.
The Comox Bay project is 55 units near the water, but also near Mount Washington, so it’s at the epicenter of beauty and recreation. The Adanac project is on an arterial bike route so Chiang is ensuring the building has a coffee shop, confirmed childcare spaces, and he is now working to secure a bicycle repair and retail shop.
“We aren’t filling an empty lot with old ideas and a lifeless structure. We are looking to enhance a neighbourhood,” he says. “I’m excited because I see how industrial space can do that, in the same way commercial developments and housing can. It’s a new frontier and I love being involved in that.”