Three days after the BC Liberal Party says it recorded $400,000 in donations from companies associated with Wall Financial Corp., president Bruno Wall signed over Chinatown land to BC Housing for almost $6.7 million.
BC Housing released documents on March 28 about the sale and development of an 11-storey, 172-unit project at 288 East Hastings. Rents will be as low as $375 a month for low-income residents of 104 units, but Wall will offer the other 68 for between $1,242 to $1,972 a month. NDP critic David Eby had challenged Housing Minister Rich Coleman to release the documents after tabling a leaked report about the project in the Legislature on March 9. Coleman had vowed to provide them by March 23.
The Liberals unaudited donors’ list for 2016 showed that the Walls gave the party $400,000 through three companies on Feb. 26, 2016: $200,000 from 2300 Kingsway Residences and $100,000 each from PWO Investments and BJW Investments. But a source told theBreaker the donations were connected to a Feb. 23, 2016 private dinner attended by Premier Christy Clark and Deputy Premier Rich Coleman.
Unlike other jurisdictions, B.C. has no laws regulating the size or source of donations to provincial or municipal political parties or candidates.
PWO and BJW were named in minutes of BC Housing’s Nov. 23, 2015 board meeting as the Wall companies that would provide development guarantees for the $39.5 million East Hastings and Gore project. The BC Housing board voted to spend $7.07 million to buy the land and loan Wall $35.93 million to develop the site, at an interest rate just under 1%. The Walls, in turn, hired builder ITC Construction.
Wall Financial founder Peter Wall gave $4,000 through the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre Hotel on Nov. 12, 2015. Wall Financial donated $12,000 on Dec. 31, 2015.
The board report said the property had a $3.9 million mortgage outstanding and BC Assessment valued the land at $4.792 million, “which is considered a low or conservative estimate of value versus formal appraisal.” The Wall-owned 292 East Hastings Holdings Ltd. bought the land in 2014 and proposed the private-public partnership to BC Housing in August 2015. Options to redevelop the land are limited by a City of Vancouver Downtown Eastside zoning bylaw that requires at least 60% of units to be non-market rentals.
The board spent four minutes on the matter and BC Housing CEO Shayne Ramsay left the room because of a conflict of interest. His wife, Janice Abbott, heads Atira Women’s Resource Society, the potential operator of the building.
BC Housing already owned the Orange Hall at the northwest corner of East Hastings and Gore and Vancouver Coastal Health has plans to redevelop the former Buddhist temple on the northeast corner. First United Church is on the southeast corner.
“Together this intersection, or the so-called four corners of the Hastings and Gore intersection, if viewed from a global context, can play an integral part in the fabric and services that are being offered to the local community and for BC Housing’s mandate to serve homeless and those at risk of homelessness,” the report said.
A BC Housing official conducted a not-for-attribution technical briefing for reporters on March 28. Reporters asked why the Crown corporation did not buy the land and seek competitive bids from other developers, who could have built more units for less cost to taxpayers.
“If Wall was interested in selling us that parcel and then exiting the deal, it could’ve proceeded on that basis,” the official said. “But that wasn’t what this deal was about. Wall wanted to be involved in it.”
Demolition began March 2016 and site work was underway last spring. BC Housing says it anticipates completion in February 2018.
Coleman did not attend the briefing and did not respond to theBreaker. Bruno Wall did not respond for comment.
No BC Housing officials answered a reporter’s question about why the site contains no signage identifying Wall as the developer or BC Housing as the funder.