Opinion: 6 sites in Vancouver that could fit Amazon's headquarters

Sep 26 2017, 1:50 am

Allocating the necessary infill space within the downtown Vancouver peninsula for a cluster of buildings totalling eight million sq. ft. in office space employing 50,000 would be practically impossible.

With Vancouver’s office vacancy rate at just 6.3%, making it the second lowest office vacancy in North America just behind Toronto, a new purpose-built complex for Amazon’s second headquarters on a greenfield site seems to be the most attractive and feasible option.

For the sake of comparison, the potential final size of the second headquarters is four times the size of the entire five-tower Bentall office complex or half of downtown’s current office space stock of about 17 million sq. ft.

According to the request for proposal (RFP) issued by Amazon earlier this month, the company desires a shovel-ready greenfield site that is approximately 100 acres, which is roughly the same size as Queen Elizabeth Park or larger than the entire Southeast False Creek district.

However, the parcels of land do not have to be contiguous but must be “within proximity to each other to foster a sense of place and be pedestrian-friendly.”

Additionally, the proposed sites must be relatively centrally located: Amazon stipulates the site needs to be within a 48-km distance away from the metropolitan region’s downtown core, within 45 minutes from a major international airport, no more than three kms away from a major arterial road or highway, and directly served by public transit.

The Vancouver Economic Commission, the City of Vancouver agency responsible for seeking new economic and job opportunities, is leading the bid as a regional effort involving other municipal governments, businesses, landowners, organizations, and stakeholders.

Here are some of the possible locations that could be considered for inclusion in Metro Vancouver’s bid for Amazon’s second headquarters:

1. False Creek Flats and Mount Pleasant in Vancouver

A portion of the 450-acre False Creek Flats, specifically the westernmost parts of the site, would be highly ideal for an Amazon headquarters complex. It would also align with Vancouver City Council’s recently approved plan for the area that will turn it into a regional hub for tech and the creative industries.

The municipal government owns about seven acres of the Flats near the intersection of Main Street and Terminal Avenue, which is set to become a part of the area’s Innovation Hub and Creative Campus.

False Creek Flats Plan. (City of Vancouver)

The Flats are planned to be transformed into a pedestrian-friendly employment district with high accessibility to public transit. It is already served by major bus routes and Main Street-Science World Skytrain Station on the Expo Line.

Additional major transit services are slated for the Flats, including a subway station on the edge of the Creative Campus as a part of the future underground SkyTrain extension of the Millennium Line to Arbutus. Council’s approved area plan also discusses a future streetcar network in downtown Vancouver and False Creek that connects to the Flats.

Some changes to the area plan would be required, particularly the permissible scope of the proposed redevelopments. Currently, the plan only envisions an additional 22,000 jobs and 3,000 residential units for the Flats by 2041.

False Creek Flats Plan. (City of Vancouver)

If more space beyond what is available in the False Creek Flats is necessary, some office buildings could replace light industrial and low-density office buildings in Mount Pleasant, specifically in the area west of Main Street and south of 2nd Avenue. A growing cluster of tech businesses can already be found in this area, including Hootsuite’s headquarters.

The False Creek Flats/Mount Pleasant area would likely be billed as the most enticing option given that it is next to downtown Vancouver. It is within close proximity to parks, the seawall, restaurants, bars, and other businesses and attractions.

2. Marine Drive Station in South Vancouver

A large industrial site next to the Canada Line’s Marine Drive Station could be another option.

The site bounded by Southwest Marine Drive, Cambie Street, Kent Avenue North, and Manitoba Street is largely owned by the City of Vancouver. It is currently occupied by auto dealerships, warehouses, Lush’s office, and the municipality’s Transfer Station and Manitoba Works Yard.

Marine Drive Station. (Google Maps Streetview)

If more space is needed, the footprint of the headquarters could theoretically grow eastward towards Ontario Street and takeover further industrial sites.

The proposed site of a 10-acre public waterfront park and outdoor natural pool along the Fraser River at the foot of Cambie Street, immediately south of this industrial site, could also be incorporated into the development plans.

As well, a large parcel of riverfront land, including a significant property at the foot of Heather Street owned by TransLink, is undeveloped. At one point, the site was considered by Metro Vancouver Regional District for its $450-million garbage incinerator.

Of course, major investments would have to be made on the Canada Line to support the ridership growth at Marine Drive Station.

3. Site of the Richmond Night Market

Jingon International Development Group has plans to redevelop its 70-acre riverfront site in North Richmond next to the Canada Line’s Bridgeport station, which includes the 22-acre site leased by the Richmond Night Market.

The redevelopment is planned to cost up to $4 billion and includes six high-end hotels, 1.1 million sq. ft. of office space, a large international shopping centre, nightclubs, bars, theatres, 450,000 sq. ft. convention centre, 300-boat marina, and a small ferry terminal. All of this would be within a mix of low- and mid-rise buildings.

Preliminary artistic rendering of the (GEC / Joyce International Properties composite)

Altogether, the mixed-use development would have a floor area in excess of four million sq. ft.

But what if the developer were to abandon these plans and convert the project into the Amazon headquarters? If additional space is required by the company, there is space within the vicinity for off-site office buildings.

But transportation connections would have to improve, specifically investments on the Canada Line and its Bridgeport Station hub.

4. Lansdowne Mall in Richmond

One of the largest shopping malls along No. 3 Road in Richmond is set to be redeveloped into a mixed-use neighbourhood with a dozen mid-rise towers, retail space, and a major park.

Lansdowne Mall, roughly 50 acres in size, could potentially be a suitable candidate if its owners are willing to scrap the existing redevelopment plans. Light industrial and commercial buildings immediately west of the mall – west of No. 3 Road – could also be redeveloped into office buildings if more land is necessary for the headquarters.

Like the aforementioned Fraser River options, the Canada Line would require an upgrade to handle the surge in ridership.

Lansdowne Mall in Richmond and the developable lands to the west. (Google Maps StreetviewO

5. Production Way-University Station in Burnaby

The industrial properties on the southern side of Burnaby Mountain around SkyTrain’s Production Way-University Station would place the Amazon headquarters in a geographically centralized location in the region, with optimal connections from SkyTrain, Lougheed Highway, and Highway 1.

The industrial lands around Production Way-University Station. (Google Maps Streetview)

This site is also wedged in between two emerging major town centres – Brentwood Town Centre to the west and Lougheed Town Centre to the east – with ample housing, retail, and restaurants.

And it is also just minutes away from the Simon Fraser University campus atop Burnaby Mountain, which could be directly connected by a new gondola transit line to Production Way-University in the future.

6. Innovation Boulevard in Surrey

Amazon in downtown Surrey would propel Surrey’s city core into becoming a secondary metropolitan area in Metro Vancouver.

A 2.5-sq-km area dubbed Innovation Boulevard between SFU Surrey’s campus and Surrey Memorial Hospital is designated by the City of Surrey as a high growth area for tech businesses and healthcare organizations. And the municipal government has been anything but shy about attracting offices and investment to the area.

Eight buildings totalling over one million square feet of office space are already slated for the district. When combined, these projects will create over $1 billion in economic activity and about 15,000 jobs.

Innovation Boulevard is still less than an hour from downtown Vancouver, and transportation connections will improve with the construction of light rail transit along the corridor.

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Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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