Senakw development in Kitsilano to generate up to $10 billion for Squamish First Nation

Dec 5 2019, 4:16 pm

Members of the Squamish First Nation are set to decide next week on what proponents say will be a momentous milestone for indigenous economic development, sustainable high-density development that creates new rental housing supply, and Vancouver’s ongoing maturation into a vibrant global city.

The vote on Tuesday, December 10 will determine whether the First Nation’s proposed Senakw redevelopment on its 11.7-acre reserve — located at the south end of the Burrard Street Bridge in the Kitsilano neighbourhood — can proceed.

If approved, it will be the single largest private investment by a First Nation in the world, according to Khelsilem, a councillor of the First Nation, during an informational session with members last Friday.

senakw squamish first nation

Site of the Senakw development in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood. (Revery Architecture / Westbank / Squamish First Nation)

Senakw Squamish First Nation Vancouver Kitsilano

Artistic rendering of the Senakw redevelopment at the south end of the Burrard Bridge in Vancouver. (Revery Architecture / Westbank / Squamish Nation)

Plans for the project were first announced in early November, shortly after the First Nation leadership finalized the proposed contract terms with local developer Westbank.

Designed by Revery Architecture, the legacy firm of late Vancouver architect Bing Thom, the project entails approximately 6,000 homes within 11 towers reaching up to 56 storeys in height, with the vast majority of these homes set to be market rental housing.

There will also be public park and open spaces, supporting amenities, and community-serving commercial space. Just 10% of the units will have parking — well below municipal requirements — which not only significantly reduces construction costs but establishes non-automobile alternatives as the transportation solution for residents. Public transit improvements, such as increased bus service and potentially even a streetcar link, are envisioned.

If approved, construction could begin as early as 2021 for a full completion of all phases within five years. As the project sits on reserve land, the First Nation does not need to seek approval from the City of Vancouver, but it will have to negotiate with municipal and regional authorities for road and utilities connections and services.

senakw squamish first nation

Construction phasing plan for Senakw. (Westbank / Squamish First Nation)

Senakw Squamish First Nation Vancouver Kitsilano

Site plan of the Senakw redevelopment at the south end of the Burrard Bridge in Vancouver. (Revery Architecture / Westbank / Squamish Nation)

Members are being asked to vote on two questions that ask whether they support the particular type of land use being proposed for the parcel of land, and whether they approve of the partnership agreement with Westbank.

In order for the project to be considered approved, both questions must see a simple majority “Yes” result.

Khelsilem explained the project represents an unprecedented opportunity to secure the First Nation’s long-term economic and financial security.

This is being proposed as a 50-50 partnership between the First Nation and Westbank, with both parties sharing the profits equally.

The project in its current form will cost $3 billion to construct, but all of the financing will be secured by Westbank. The First Nation will only have to provide the land through a 120-year lease, and will contribute zero amount of dollars towards the cost of construction.

Senakw cannot proceed without the involvement of a major developer like Westbank, which will provide access to lenders and the proven experience needed to design, build, finance, and market the project.

senakw squamish first nation

Artistic rendering of the Senakw development in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood. (Revery Architecture / Westbank / Squamish First Nation)

senakw squamish first nation

Artistic rendering of the Senakw development in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood. (Revery Architecture / Westbank / Squamish First Nation)

“The partnership proposes a 50-50 because that is the way we’re able to demonstrate to lenders the confidence to be able to deliver on the project and the profits that are estimated from it,” he said, adding that the even split is the “best case scenario” given that “not a dollar is being asked for from the Squamish First Nation.”

Westbank was selected after a comprehensive bidding process that began four years ago. All major local developers were invited to submit a proposal, with the band’s leadership seeking a plan with the lowest risks and the highest returns to the First Nation.

“Squamish is providing the land, Westbank is providing the expertise and the background and experience to deliver a project on this scale and scope,” he continued.

Khelsilem asked members to look at the First Nation’s financial windfall with a very long-term lens that extends through multiple generations; based on an independent analysis by Ernst & Young, over a theoretical 110-year life cycle, Senakw will generate between $16 billion to $20 billion, with the First Nation receiving 50%.

senakw squamish first nation

Long-term revenue forecast generated for the Squamish First Nation from Senakw. Click on the image for an enlarged version of the graph. (Westbank / Squamish First Nation)

These numbers are based on a mix of 70% market rental housing, and 30% leasehold market strata condominiums. For the First Nation, rental income alone would generate $8 billion to $10 billion over the entire life cycle, strata profits would bring in $290 million over the first 10 years, and the nation amenity contribution (NAC) would bring in $180 million over the first 10 years.

The NAC is based on an amenity contribution equal to $60 per sq. ft. multiplied by the gross floor area in sq. ft. of each phase of development.

Varying unit mixes are being considered, ranging from 70% to 90% market housing and the remaining 10% to 30% as leasehold market strata, but all scenarios present staggering returns. As well, based on a total floor area of three million sq. ft., used either entirely or primarily for rentals, the appraised fair market value of Senakw is between $318 million and $582 million.

He said market condominium homes and the NAC are being incorporated into the project to provide upfront cash totalling $470 million so that the First Nation can provide the current generation of its members with benefits.

senakw squamish first nation

Artistic rendering of the Senakw development in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood. (Revery Architecture / Westbank / Squamish First Nation)

It is forecast that the largest revenue-generation period for both the First Nation and Westbank will begin after the construction costs have been fully paid, which is expected to be between the period of 35 to 50 years after the completion of the buildings.

Employment benefits during construction have also been promised, as the First Nation, as an equal partner, has preferential treatment for hiring, procurement, and employment opportunities for its members. Additionally, between 150 and 200 of the homes will be made available to First Nation members at a below-market rate.

And as a self-governing entity, the First Nation has the full rights to charge property taxes on leasehold strata, tenants of market rental housing, and the commercial businesses.

senakw squamish first nation

Artistic rendering of the Senakw development in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood. (Revery Architecture / Westbank / Squamish First Nation)

But Khelsilem made it clear Senakw could be the first of many self-determination economic development projects for the First Nation. Future projects on other reserve lands could bring a far higher rate of return — a 100% return, in fact.

Through Senakw, the Squamish First Nation intend to gain the experience and knowledge needed to become a developer themselves.

“As a partner of this partnership with Westbank, they are very committed and supportive of the Nation’s dream of doing it on our own,” he said. “They want to see us become a developer just like they are because we have all these lands, and they want to support us and our dreams. They know that our dream is to do it our own.”

“We really get to gain experience of working together so that we can do it our own eventually. It would be really awesome to do these massive innovative designs and projects 100% by the Squamish Nation and with 100% of the profits coming back to us.”

senakw squamish first nation

Artistic rendering of the Senakw development in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood. (Revery Architecture / Westbank / Squamish First Nation)

The last major economic development project spearheaded by the First Nation was a decade ago, when it installed a number of giant electronic billboards next to major roadways on reserve land across the region. Currently, these billboards generate about $1.5 million in annual revenue.

The Squamish First Nation is also amongst a consortium of three local First Nations partnered with federal crown corporation Canada Lands Company to redevelop the 21-acre old RCMP headquarters on the Cambie Corridor’s Heather Street Lands and the 90-acre Jericho Garrison in the West Point Grey neighbourhood into high-density, transit-oriented, mixed-use redevelopments. Both projects are not on reserve land, and are required to go through the municipal approvals processes.

“We’re not going to be able to deliver on our community needs until we generate more revenue through economic development,” said Khelsilem.

Many of the First Nation’s reserves are located in far-flung rural locations, but other than Senakw’s location on a reserve on the False Creek waterfront next to Vancouver’s city centre, the next most valuable piece of property is their reserve on the north end of the Lions Gate Bridge.

This 384-acre property spans an area west of the bridge that includes Park Royal shopping centre, which is already a revenue generator, as well as a portion of Ambleside Park, and an area east of the bridge that has hundreds of single-family homes but can be considered largely undeveloped.

If members provide their leadership with the green light to proceed with Senakw, there will be a public engagement process with the wider community early next year to inform them of the development.

The name for Senakw, derived from a combination of several meanings, is interpreted as “the place inside the head of False Creek.”

senakw squamish first nation

Artistic rendering of the Senakw development in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood. (Revery Architecture / Westbank / Squamish First Nation)

Senakw Squamish First Nation Vancouver Kitsilano

Artistic rendering of the Senakw redevelopment at the south end of the Burrard Bridge in Vancouver. (Revery Architecture / Westbank / Squamish Nation)

Senakw Squamish First Nation Vancouver Kitsilano

Artistic rendering of the Senakw redevelopment at the south end of the Burrard Bridge in Vancouver. (Revery Architecture / Westbank / Squamish Nation)

Senakw Squamish First Nation Vancouver Kitsilano

Artistic rendering of the Senakw redevelopment at the south end of the Burrard Bridge in Vancouver. (Revery Architecture / Westbank / Squamish Nation)