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Lack of Office Space in Vancouver


Tuesday, August 21st, 2007 — 8:00am PDT
Comments 11

Of the dozen construction sites I pass by on my walk to work, only one isn’t for a residential tower and that’s the new convention centre in Coal Harbour. It seems like everywhere you turn, there’s a new condo development popping up.

They tore down that old store around the corner, what’s going in there now? Condos. They finally decided to do something with that old grassed-over lot? Yeah it’s gonna be condos now. They demolished those houses? Yep, to make room for more condos.

Downtown Vancouver has had years of dwindling office space due to condo conversions, the departure of head offices and a drought of new office-building construction. Vacancies are low and rents are high. [News1130]

Sure there are small victories that pop into the news now and then, but I really don’t see much for an expansion in office space especially considering Vancouver is heavily responsible for the current ‘reverse brain-drain‘ [MontrealTechWatch]. Warehouses in Gastown that were once turning into start-up hipster offices are now being transformed into open-concept lofts for living.

Where is everyone going to work? Industrial parks in the burbs spring to mind.

If you’ve driven on Marine lately you’ll see a huge difference [Riverfront][BurnabyBusinessPark][GlenlyonParkway]. Along with the giant boxed stores come marketable subdivisions for anyone from water to tech companies. But does expanding out East and South from our downtown core help or hinder growing business in Vancouver itself?


Photo credit: Bucky C. Arnold on Flickr

This could very well be great news for Surrey who used to have Canada’s largest vacant office space, Central City. It currently has an empty building containing 90% of the city’s office space, which is completely empty and has been for almost a decade. There’s so much space out there in fact, that they’re dancing around the vacant rooms (literally) until business moves in.

…a decade after the project was announced, the 275,000-square-foot structure remains vacant. Meanwhile, the city continues to celebrate the building, now known as the 104 Avenue Centre, as a testament to Surrey’s commercial promise… Next month, the mayor will hold her charity ball in the building for the second year in a row. [SurreyLeader]

Even the once-vacant Central City is hot stuff.

…sold for $245.75 million in what is believed to be British Columbia’s biggest real estate deal in history for a single property. [Canada.com]

I think the message from the suburbs is, ‘we’re open for business’.

If you look at other major cities sometimes the big hubs of business activity take place outside of downtown. When I lived in Boston I never once actually lived or worked in Boston proper. I was living in Cambridge and working in Watertown at the Arsenal on the Charles.

Should ‘downtown’ then just be reserved for big banks, hotels and condos? For those who live and work in Yaletown, Davie Village, Coal Harbour, Gastown, the West End etc., should we be worried that reverse-commute will soon be in order? Would that be a horrible thing?

I’m worried enough that my office will soon be moving from Gastown to Yaletown. Sure it’s 19 blocks from home compared to the 18 blocks distance I currently walk but we’ll be distancing ourselves from other like-minded businesses… and this is just a 2km relocation. I used to commute from Surrey via walking, bus and train, so I think I’ve just become a little too soft but it does help to be surrounded by peers and the buzz of the network.

The expansion of business is Vancouver is definitely a plus, we just need (more) affordable places to put it all.

I enjoy living downtown, and I enjoy not having a car and walking to work. I also like being able to stop off at London Drugs on my way home or hopping out to grab a steamed bun from Chinatown at lunch. I have nothing against the growing economy of the suburbs, I would just like to see more growth for business in the downtown core. But if I am going to start in on a wish list for downtown, I should really start with more affordable places to live, for everyone.

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11 comments

  1. bz says:

    I dont think everything needs to be downtown. first, transit needs to be better to realize some people live in maple ridge and work in langley, or live in richmond and work in burnaby.

    there can be different “cores”, have a look at metrotown. however, this particular location screams “lipstick on a pig” to me.

  2. Miss604 says:

    I hear ya on the transit situation. Downtown you can get a bus to 3 different cities all within 5 minutes. In Surrey (and I’m even talking ‘central city’ area not just the farmland) you can wait about 45-60 minutes for a bus on a pretty main route.

  3. Tawcan says:

    I agree with bz. Transit needs to be better. I work in Richmond and it’s impossible to get to work by transit.

    A lot of companies can’t afford to rent office space in downtown Vancouver… this ties into what you said about condo developments but no office space developments.

  4. Jenny says:

    With so many people now living outside of Vancouver itself it is important to have jobs in those areas. People need to be able to live and work and play in the same community. I would love to have a job closer to home or even be able to take transit to work without having to spend over 3 hours a day doing so.

  5. David says:

    When you start to look at the real costs of keeping work and life far apart (which includes a commute in either direction), I’ll bet we’ll have to start figuring ways of creating ‘more mixed use’ areas. Even with mass transit, it’s still wasteful to move people around just because you want to segregate office space from homes.

    I’d prefer locations with some office, some retail and some living, all going on in one area (used to live that way in Cambridge, too – around One Kendall Square). The different populations often are active/around at different hours of the day, and yes, the ability to grocery shop on the way home (on foot or via a short bus/trolley ride) or (as I’m wishing these days)grab lunch at a local cafe rather than having to rely on some horrible corporate cafeteria or worse, drive to some restaurant for a mid-day break would be a definite improvement.

    It all comes down to the price of real estate (office space vs. living space). Gastown is probably one of the last places in downtown that’s still affordable, but I bet it won’t be for long. Building more mixed use downtown will help, but I would imagine it’s hard to design and put together financing for that.

  6. GZ Expat says:

    Hmmm…the future is not going to be communal working conditions…rather, the future is all about telecommuting and working from where ever you are. I see the future of glass towers dying.

  7. teflonjedi says:

    Hi there…recently found your website, as I’ve been looking for ways to keep in touch with my old hometown, which I’ve only seen once a year, at Christmas, for many years now, since moving to Kingston, then Boston, then San Francisco, and now China.

    I think that cities have life cycles, and it sounds like what’s happening in Vancouver is just part of that. Like you, when I lived in Boston, I lived in Cambridge, and enjoyed the car-less part of life that went along with that. So, I hope things work out well, for all involved.

  8. GZ Expat says:

    Look out, Rebecca, you are being overtaken by southern Chinese refugees! It’s official, you and John need to visit HK and GZ, because you now have TWO people to have beers with!

  9. […] to get working folks from their homes and into their offices in under 2 hours? Perhaps the possible lack of office space in Vancouver is a good thing, for this very […]

  10. Although I agree with what you’re trying to convey (bring in more commercial lots in downtown Vancouver instead of condos), I have to defend what Vancouver and similar cities are trying to do. They are trying to bring in more people into the area. The way to do is means one thing: Property expansion for the private sector. By bringing in more people to live @ semi-reasonable prices, the economy will go up even more than it has been (except for lately of course). By putting commercial properties outside of the city, yes I realize that it may take hopping in a car and driving there or taking a few extra bus stops. I even realize that it may be quite a ways from your home. However, if the job is worth the commute, then I’m sure eventually you’ll embrace it. With more population in downtown Vancouver, you will yield more funds that’ll open up new stores, restaurants, and entertainment centers. It’ll be for the best to move some of the commercial aspects to the suburbs. Leave the retail chains, hotels, and other service industries in downtown.

  11. I understand what you mean but with these condos bring economy and people prepared to pay a lot for them but when there is office space empty surely these should be used first?
    With city centre commuting I have found the difference in a few blocks can add half an hour and more each way to your journey, people end up getting in early and leaving late to avoid traffic which is good for the employer but not the employee. My office moved 3 km away and my 10 hour a week commute turned to a 20 hour a week commute becaouse of the traffic I got ill from all the driving and now work from home using virtual conferencing and shared servers this is what we have to look forward to in the future although you have to be more motivated (not wasting time commenting on blogs lol) and need a lot of trust from your employer, you just miss the social side to working in an office.

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