New Aquilini Development

Three new highrise towers planned beside Rogers Arena will feature several hundred rental units as their residential component instead of condominiums.

“It’s in the heart of the downtown core and we thought it would be a great rental project,” said David Negrin, president of Aquilini Developments and Construction, on Wednesday. “We’re taking some risk, but feel there’s a real requirement for rentals in downtown Vancouver.”

According to the plan, which originally favoured condos in the mixed-used development, a total of 614 one-, two- and three-bedroom rental units would be built in stages over the next several years with the last of the towers — between 23 and 32 storeys — completed in the spring of 2016.

The initial construction work has already started on the West Tower, which was earlier approved by the city as a commercial tower.

Aquilini is now seeking rezoning for the other two towers, as well as the right to change the plan for the West Tower so that it includes 210 rentals.

“We are in a current rezoning, which goes to public hearing in July, for the two new towers,” said Negrin of the $300-million project. “We also want to revert the West Tower, with about half the density from commercial to rental. The other two towers would be for rental only.

“This is probably the largest rental project [in Vancouver] in the last 30 years.”

Negrin said if rezoning is granted, the West Tower should be ready for occupancy by renters in the spring of 2014 and the second tower in the spring of 2015.

The units, ranging in size from 500 to 900 square feet, would rent for $2.20 to $2.40 per square foot. That means a one-bedroom, 500-square-foot unit would rent for between $1,100 and $1,200 a month, while a three-bedroom, 900-square-foot unit would rent for between $1,980 and $2,160 a month.

The 650,000-square-foot project includes 753 parking spaces and 216,000 square feet of commercial space.

Negrin said the company decided three months ago to change from market condos to rentals. He said the new plan is “riskier,” but that they’re in it for the long term.

“Prices for condos are extremely high and that’s one of the reasons we went with this. We want to attract young families and single people.”

Negrin said the project is in line with Vancouver’s vision of more rental accommodation, and that the city is supportive of the Aquilini plan.

He noted that Aquilini will seek reduced fees and community amenity contributions to make the project happen.

“We’ve worked with the neighbourhood closely [and] they’re really supportive.”

Negrin said the area will appeal to people attracted to the nearby downtown activity. “All the amenities are there. You don’t need to get in a car and drive.”

Negrin noted that while Aquilini will continue building market housing, it also plans to build a 12-storey rental tower at 14th and Oak.

In Metro Vancouver, rental apartments are increasingly seen as a good investment.

In April, Lougheed Village in northeast Burnaby, one of Metro Vancouver’s largest multi-family rental complexes, sold for over $80 million in what was called the third biggest transaction of its type in B.C. history.

Apartment broker David Goodman, co-owner of HQ Commercial Real Estate Services Inc., which conducted the transaction, said the sale of the development that included two 24-storey and two eight-storey residential buildings, sent a message that rental buildings are good investments, especially those near a rapid transit line.

Robyn Adamache, CMHC’s senior market analyst for Metro Vancouver, said Wednesday that demand for rental housing continues to be strong in the region.

“We’ve had a good, steady growth of people moving here and good employment growth. Those are two of the main reasons.”

Adamache said there were 1,755 rental units built in Metro Vancouver in 2011 and 743 in the city of Vancouver, up significantly from the 447 built in Metro Vancouver in 2009 and 192 that year in Vancouver.

The average number of rental units built per year from 2002 to 2011 was 871 in Metro Vancouver and 361 in the City of Vancouver.

Kevin McNaney, assistant director of planning for the city of Vancouver, said the proposal is being evaluated by staff.

The matter will go to council June 12 with a potential public hearing sometime in July.


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