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HomeBusinessExclusive: Squamish Nation and Westbank foresee condo sales in Burrard Bridge towers plan

Exclusive: Squamish Nation and Westbank foresee condo sales in Burrard Bridge towers plan


Bob Mackin

Luxury condo developer Westbank would be a 50-50 partner with the Squamish Nation and share profits with the band if a high-density project proceeds on the Kitsilano 6 reserve beside the Burrard Bridge, has learned.

Westbank’s Ian Gillespie with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2015 (Westbank)

On April 10, the North Vancouver-headquartered First Nation announced it was trying again to build on the 11-acre site called Senakw that its lawyers regained at the B.C. Court of Appeal in 2002. Two years earlier, Squamish Nation surrendered a 60-acre claim for Kitsilano Point as part of a $92.5 million settlement with the federal government.

“The fact we have an opportunity to do something for the city like building around 3,000 rental units is so exciting on so many levels,” Tweeted band councillor and spokesman Dustin Rivers, aka Khelsilem.

However, a document prepared for a March 21 information meeting of Squamish Nation members said the project would be a “mix of primarily rental housing, along with offices, retail, public space and community amenities.”

“Real estate sales opportunity: Potential to develop a portion of project as strata condominiums for sale,” the document said.

Obtained by (Squamish Nation)

The development would be in two or three phases, but no timeline is mentioned. Long-term rental income would allow the Nation “to take advantage of rising rents and real estate values over time.”

The project would also offer job, training and education opportunities for Squamish Nation members through each phase and component of development. Rivers Tweeted that the band would be applying in the fall for BC Housing subsidies.

The Squamish Nation undertook a “comprehensive third-party review of proposals from multiple development partners” and engaged in non-binding talks with Westbank. Westbank would be the project manager “for which it would receive market rate fees” and would guarantee loans required to fund construction, including major upfront utility infrastructure.

A source who attended the March 21 meeting said that Westbank CEO Ian Gillespie delivered a presentation about his company.

The Squamish Nation documents contemplate two rounds of information sessions with members in Squamish Valley, North Vancouver, Seattle and Nanaimo and two referenda: one for designating the land for development and another to vote on the business terms. The documents also include a questionnaire, seeking input on concerns about the project, how ancestors who lived at Senakw more than a century ago should be honoured through the development process and ways to spend Senakw development revenue.

Artist’s rendition of the 2010 Squamish Nation plan for its Burrard Bridge land (Squamish Nation)

Westbank redeveloped Woodward’s which has a substantial rental quotient, but it has become better-known for high-end luxury tower projects marketed in Asia, including Shangri-La, Telus Garden, Vancouver House and Horseshoe Bay. The penthouse at its Fairmont Pacific Rim sold for more than $50 million to Prince Hamdan of Dubai.

This is not the first attempt to develop the land. Squamish Nation politicians said in 2010 they wanted to build a tower on the west side of the bridge and mid-rise office buildings on the east side. In recent years, the band council shifted its attention to partnering with the Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam, with major backing from the Aquilini family, to acquire a portfolio of federal and provincial properties in Burnaby, Vancouver and West Vancouver. Projects on the former RCMP land and in Jericho are in the drawing board stage.

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