Westbank’s Ian Gillespie targets world’s wealthy with ‘52-storey sculpture’ Vancouver House. But is City Hall getting a fair deal for Vancouver citizens?

westbank_imagebIntro  comment: An interview by reporter Ian Young with Westbank Projects Corp‘s CEO, Ian Gillespie, appeared in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post on June 17, 2014.

Here we learn that Gillespie’s proposed 52-storey “Vancouver House” luxury residential tower — being built on what was mostly public public land and will hang over the Granville Bridge — is being marketed in cities around the world, including Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Gillespie is targeting wealthy overseas buyers, which he likens to art collectors. The article suggests that many of the units are expected to stay empty. Below are a few excerpts of the article, and we encourage readers to go to the paper’s website for the whole interview.

If you look deeper at this project, a myriad of public issues arise. This city is unaffordable for local people, while a prominent developer acquires land owned by the public (i.e., City of Vancouver) through obscure deals to build for the wealthy from elsewhere. Gillespie expects it to be the most expensive tower ever built in Vancouver. Someone needs to put more resources into scrutinizing the whole deal, including land transactions, community amenity contributions, and so on. How can anyone be sure the City is Vancouver is getting the best deal for its people, fairness toward the whole industry, and justice for our society?

Vancouver City Council has already approved many billions of dollars of rezonings for Westbank, including Oakridge Mall, Kensington Gardens, The Lauren, 188 Keefer, Granville at 70th (also with heavy marketing targeting Asian money), Shaw Tower, Shangri-La Vancouver, Telus Garden, Fairmont Pacific Rim, and more. Gillespie has close ties with and is a major political donor for Vision Vancouver, which has absolute control of Council, with eight of eleven votes.  Many of these deals require greater public scrutiny to verify whether City Hall got enough in return for approving the rezonings — which are equivalent to a license to print money.

combo_persp_no3d_bridgeThe land upon which Gillespie plans to build this 52-storey tower is (or perhaps, was) largely owned by the public. See our August 2012 post City owns majority of Granville mega-development rezoning site (see related image on right). What are the details of the land deals? Is the City negotiating in good faith on behalf of the public? How transparent are the negotiations? Where is the independent auditing and scrutiny? Where has this been reported?

Separately, on June 10, 2014, Council unanimously approved “closure and sale” of 776.4 square meters of lanes adjacent to 1412-1480 Howe Street, with the lanes to be “closed stopped-up and conveyed to the owner of the Block 122 Lots.” There was no presentation and no discussion in Council. Not a whisper that this was for Westbank or Vancouver House. No mention of the value of the “sale” or how it was determined. The entire process took twenty seconds.


Vancouver developer targets world’s wealthy with his ‘52-storey sculpture’ (Ian Young, South China Morning Post, 17-June-2014)

Excerpts: Canadian developer Ian Gillespie was in full spate as he described his vision for Vancouver as an Asia-Pacific hub, attracting the best and brightest to what is routinely ranked as one of the world’s most liveable cities.

It is a vision that underpins his latest project: Vancouver House, a futuristic-looking high-rise that Gillespie predicted would become a landmark for the city when completed in 2018.

The luxury residential tower is being marketed around the world, including Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, where Gillespie and Danish architect Bjarke Ingels are due to officially unveil the project today.

Yet in a recent interview in his Vancouver office, Gillespie admitted his home city was experiencing “growing pains” after a decade in which more than 40,000 rich immigrants, 80 per cent of them Chinese, moved to the city under a recently axed millionaire migration scheme. In addition to being one of the world’s most liveable cities, Vancouver is now the second-most unaffordable housing market in the world behind Hong Kong, according to the Demographia consultancy. With prices of detached homes now averaging more than C$1.2 million (HK$8.6 million), can Vancouverites afford any more internationalisation?

… Gillespie said the tower would be the most expensive ever built in Vancouver…… He likened Vancouver House’s potential buyers to art collectors.

Adding to the appeal for international buyers will be an “asset management” programme for absentee owners, with managers performing such tasks as running water through the taps and regularly switching on appliances should an apartment lie vacant for an extended period. It is a concept bound to raise eyebrows in a city where vacancy rates are frequently cited as a downside of foreign participation in the housing market.

… Gillespie said he was unconcerned by Canada’s decision in February to axe the 28-year-old millionaire migration scheme…The scheme, under which migrants worth a minimum of C$1.6 million received permanent residency in exchange for loaning the government C$800,000 interest-free for five years, helped Vancouver become the world’s favourite destination for millionaire migrants…Applications by millionaires, most of them Chinese, to move to British Columbia under the scheme in recent years far exceeded those under similar wealth migration schemes to move to the United States, Australia and Britain combined…The cancellation of the programme goes into effect this month, along with the formal rejection of visa applications by about 60,000 would-be migrants, two-thirds of them planning to move to British Columbia.

Gillespie said the move had likely triggered a brief decline in Vancouver sales already, although he believed it would amount to nothing more than “a blip”. Rich immigrants would continue to make their way to Vancouver regardless, he noted.

NOTE: Image credit — the image at top left comes from the City of Vancouver website: “Urban Views” (page 6-7): http://former.vancouver.ca/commsvcs/planning/rezoning/applications/1412-1460howe/documents/views_rev2.pdf

Rezoning page:

One thought on “Westbank’s Ian Gillespie targets world’s wealthy with ‘52-storey sculpture’ Vancouver House. But is City Hall getting a fair deal for Vancouver citizens?

  1. Vancouver should institute an additional transfer tax of 15% of the sales price if the buyer is not a Canadian permanent resident. That is what Hong Kong has done to stem the flood of money from the Mainland which has made Hong Kong the most expensive city in the World in terms of Real Estate. Brave of them since Hong Kong is part of China. I wonder if anyone in Canada will have such courage?

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