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How will Vancouver’s Broadway Plan help satisfy the city’s growing demand for office and retail space?

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Vancouver’s Broadway Plan was approved this summer by the Vancouver City Council.

Spanning 500 city blocks, the project will be established over 30 years and introduce new housing, commercial and office developments, job space and amenities, all served by the Broadway Subway.

We spoke to Marco DiPaolo, an executive vice president, and Sherman Scott, an associate vice president with leading commercial real estate company Colliers. They share their years of real estate experience to shed light on office and retail development opportunities under the Broadway Plan.

What’s the importance of the Broadway Plan to this part of Vancouver?

Marco DiPaolo, executive vice president, Colliers: The Broadway Plan is probably one of the most significant changes that’s come to the area in many years. Although the plan supports the growth of both commercial and residential, the key to success is to get the development mix right.

Residential and office spaces typically don’t like to be comingled. This plan appears to focus the growth of both uses in certain areas so they benefit from being adjacent, ensuring everybody benefits in a positive way.

Sherman Scott, associate vice president, Colliers: It’s critical to plan for growth and there is no question, as we know, that Vancouver will continue to grow. We need a plan.

If done right, this is a real opportunity to allow for residential and office growth while creating or enhancing several communities along transit. It gives us the opportunity to balance growth with community services, amenities, desired green space and things like interesting streetscapes and vibrancy.

In general, there is a very limited supply of retail space in urban Vancouver and as a result, Vancouver’s Broadway Plan could ease some of the demand pressure we continue to experience.

What’s the significance of this part of Vancouver today?

DiPaolo: The Broadway corridor has been one of the most successful office districts in North America, demonstrated by many years of low vacancy rates. The area has expanded from what was traditionally Arbutus to Cambie to now include Mount Pleasant, False Creek Flats and Great Northern Way. Most recently, the Mount Pleasant area has probably seen the most dramatic amount of interest and office growth as demand for non-traditional office space in proximity to interesting amenities has increased.

You’re really starting to see the transition in that area and it’s pretty eclectic, including industrial type buildings adjacent to interesting office developments mixed with a wide range of cool retailers that are hard to find anywhere else in the city.

Scott: It’s a busy area for retail, but some older buildings aren’t suitable for new retail. Many of the buildings are covered by demolition clauses, so it doesn’t make sense for new or existing tenants to invest a lot of money in a building that could be redeveloped.

Particular areas like Main Street and Broadway and Cambie and Broadway are in very high demand with minimal space available, if any. The Broadway Plan will open up some supply and provide residents with much-needed services.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way people work and shop?

DiPaolo: Following COVID-19, many companies are currently not utilizing the majority of their office space, but with the intent that they will get back to using most of it. We’re still in transition on the question of how much office space companies actually need — everybody is trying to find the sweet spot.

Scott: COVID-19 accelerated some trends we were seeing already, like the trend towards online shopping. Having said that, we didn’t see nearly as many vacancies as we first thought we would — in fact, areas with high residential density like Mount Pleasant, Kitsilano and South Granville flourished.

The median street front vacancy rate is quite low, estimates at 2.5 per cent [based on Colliers Spring/Summer Index]. It’s been very busy on the leasing front since the beginning of the year.

What are tenants looking for in office and retail space?

DiPaolo: They’re looking for office spaces where employees will want to be, not where they’re told to be.

People need to collaborate, but they also need quiet spaces to concentrate. What’s worked so well in the Mount Pleasant area is offices with all kinds of eclectic amenities and retailers within walking distance that make coming to work a better experience. We’d like to see that continue.

Scott: It is critical for developers to build space with retailers in mind. Basic building services like sufficient loading, electrical capacity, plumbing, heating and air conditioning are required. Building features like outdoor display areas and in the case of restaurants, venting capabilities, patios and locations for grease-traps are key.

How do you make sure the Broadway Plan meets the office and retail needs of businesses who want to locate here?

DiPaolo: Developers are most in tune with market demand. However, the city creates policies that determine what gets built and those policies don’t tend to change as quickly as demand does.

It would be great to see more collaboration between the development community and the city. If the city moves the policy needle forward a little faster to match the demand developers are anticipating, it will be a win for everyone.

Scott: The city and developers have gotten a lot better when it comes to designing developments with retailers needs in mind, but more can be done.

Involve future tenants and other stakeholders in the design process, ensuring that developments being planned will work for the intended user.

I believe vibrancy is key. Allow for wide sidewalks, patios and outdoor display areas. Be flexible in terms of design so the streetscape is active and fun. What happens on the ground floor of a development brands it, and, if successful, creates the community that we all seek.

What’s your advice to office or retail tenants who are thinking about space in the Broadway area?

DiPaolo: The larger a firm you are, the further in advance you want to start planning an office move. Find a knowledgeable partner who can help you deal with the complexities of the development as it unfolds, so that you can maintain your options, instead of compromising them by moving at the last minute.

Scott: The activities of developers will largely dictate the timelines for retail opportunities, but there will be intense competition for the space around transit nodes. Although there will be additional opportunities across the entire development over time, retailers will need to move quickly to secure these locations.

This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division, on behalf of Colliers.

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