Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Vancouver House tower makes enemies before it's built by targeting Asian buyers


Vancouver House tower makes enemies before it's built by targeting Asian buyers

Rendering of Westbank Projects Corporation's Vancouver House. Vancouver Houses most distinctive feature is the 52-storey curving and cantilevered residential tower by the Howe Street on ramp to the Granville Street Bridge.

Photograph by: Submitted

With its twisted sculptural design, the “iconic” $500-million Vancouver House is being marketed across Asia as a symbol of Vancouver’s future.
The 52-storey Westbank project alongside the north end of Granville Bridge is slated to open in 2018 and is being aggressively marketed in Asia, with up to half of the owners expected to buy from outside Canada.
According to the South China Morning Post, two sales offices were opened in Hong Kong in June.
Sales agents then visited China’s largest cities in search of buyers. And in July, Vancouver House units were marketed in Singapore. According to Singapore publications, Vancouver House condos were reserved for overseas buyers.
This week, Singapore-based website Property Guru reported there was an “overwhelming response” to the launch of Vancouver House, one of “Canada’s iconic buildings.”
“Vancouver House ... saw more than 30 units transacted — far more than expected,” according to Property Guru.
“The response surprised us and surprised the developer,” an “excited” Singapore agent was quoted telling Property Guru, which reported a second “showcase” event was planned this week in Singapore. In mid-July The Business Times reported that of “388 units in the 52-storey tower, 30 units are reserved for the Singapore market, said Westbank’s marketing director Michael Braun.”
Westbank spokeswoman Jill Killeen said an initial September date to start selling to locals had been brought forward after Westbank received its disclosure statement last Thursday, ”making it legal to sell.”
“Our tracking indicates that more than 50 per cent of buyers will come from the Vancouver marketplace,” Killeen said in a prepared statement. Sales for local buyers will begin this week. Killeen said Westbank had been marketing to locals through print and television and had hosted an arts event under the bridge to generate interest.
In a story featuring an interview with Vancouver House developer Ian Gillespie, the South China Morning Post noted the building will have an “asset management” program for absentee owners, with staff periodically turning on taps and appliances in unoccupied units.
Gillespie said Vancouver House will be the most expensive building ever in Vancouver and units will be for art-collector-like buyers looking for “live-in sculpture.”
Vancouver House’s star architect, Bjarke Ingels, suggests the building — which will include revitalizing the space under the Granville Bridge at the 1400-block of Howe Street — is symbolic of “a giant curtain, at the moment of being pulled back to reveal the world to Vancouver and Vancouver to the world.”
Before the project was approved by Vancouver council some residents complained that Ingels’ tower design, rising from a thin triangular wedge and torquing into a top-heavy structure with zigzagged Lego-like units stacked high over the bridge, will be “unsettling,” “overzealous” and “an architectural eyesore.”
If the rumbling debate over foreign ownership in Vancouver and complaints such as one submitted by a Province reader are an indication, then density and design won’t be the only concerns raised in council for future developments. Locals may question where buyers are expected to come from, and whether they will live here.
“It’s shocking that this building, which has been marketed to us as the iconic Vancouver House, gets sold two months in advance to Asia,” a reader told The Province, in reaction to reports from Singapore. “I wouldn’t call that iconic, I’d call it insulting.”
UBC real estate expert Tsur Somerville said he is not sure if Vancouver’s current housing market demands that projects like Vancouver House be marketed mostly to overseas buyers.
Somerville said in his view, the important question for Vancouver’s future is not where buyers are from, but how they use their new homes.
“I’m not ready to say we are becoming like some ghost city in Outer Mongolia,” he said. “The question is, do you become like the Aspens or Whistlers of the world, where the people that work there don’t live there?”

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