Even when its last buildings are completed, a business park’s story doesn’t necessarily end.
Take the case of Willingdon Park, a class A suburban business park of nearly a million square feet in Burnaby, B.C., smack in the centre of Metro Vancouver. That’s about 10 kilometres from downtown Vancouver as the crow flies.
Construction wrapped up on the final two of the park’s nine buildings 18 months ago. Both new buildings were constructed to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design gold standard. That came 25 years after the park’s first building went up in the early 1980s.
Earlier this year a major tenant, the natural gas utility FortisBC, opened a new call centre in one of those new buildings while the other new building is still awaiting its first tenant.
“Not every developer has the vision to always build into the right market,” said Sandy Cruickshank, executive vice president of Tonko Realty Advisors, which manages Willingdon Park for HOOPP. “And frankly these buildings were completed at a time when the market was challenged. And so it has taken a bit longer to lease up. But we have some good activity and interest in the buildings and hopefully that will result in some firm leases.”
Edith Hewitt, Tonko’s vice president of asset management, said the market softened following the FortisBC signing but has slowly been recovering. Tonko has actively engaged in requests for proposals. There are also discussions taking place for a full-building lease. Hewitt declined to offer any more specifics.
That shiny new 91,000 square foot structure, known internally as building 8, is at 4350 Still Creek Dr. Building 9, its mirror image at 4370 Still Creek, has about 38,000 square feet, or 41 per cent of its space, still vacant.
Those vacancies account for almost all of the 16 per cent of empty office space in the park. Six of the other buildings are fully occupied. That includes the largest one, the six-storey 227,000 square foot building 6, at 4321 Still Creek Dr.
Building 8, at 4350 Still Creek Dr., shines at night as it awaits its first tenants. Photo courtesy Tonko Realty Advisors
Building 9, at 4370 Still Creek Dr., is home to a new FortisBC call centre. Photo courtesy Tonko Realty Advisors
HOOPP Pursues LEED For Vacant Space
A year ago after eBay, which had a call centre in the building, and Hongkong Bank of Canada, vacated the premises they left about 175,000 square feet empty.
The park’s owner, the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan, or HOOPP responded to the loss of two major tenants from the park’s largest building by renovating it to LEED silver standard.
“That gave us an opportunity of transforming that building,” Hewitt said. “Certainly we had to look at re-tenanting it, but when we looked at the marketplace and what was appealing to the marketplace, we decided that it should follow in the footsteps of the two new buildings.”
Hewitt declined to say what the LEED renovations costs, other than that “it was significant money spent.” The work included mechanical system upgrades, low-flush fixtures in washrooms, high-efficiency lighting and even some cosmetic changes “to make sure the building looks good.”
While the work is now finished, and the building fully occupied, it won’t receive LEED certification until its performance is measured to ensure it meets such standards as energy efficiency and water consumption.
“We’re just in the process right now” of taking those measurements and applying for the certification, Hewitt said.
Business Park Becomes Technology Hub
At present, the park has about 40 tenants. They include the likes of Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson Canada Inc., Kodak Canada, and D-Wave Systems Inc., a pioneer in quantum computing.
“So we consider ourselves a bit of a technology hub,” Hewitt said. “We’re actually putting in a new substation in the park to service the power demands of our tenants.”
About 4,000 employees work at the business park, many of them flocking in from elsewhere in Metro Vancouver. The 28-acre park is within a kilometre of a Millennium Line SkyTrain station, an eight-minute walk, Cruickshank noted. However, for those who don’t like to stroll in B.C.’s frequent rains, the park has a free shuttle bus for employees to ferry them to and from the Gilmore SkyTrain station and the nearby Brentwood Town Centre shopping mall.
About half the park is green space, which includes the Willingdon Mile, a footpath that meanders around the perimeter of the property.
“So this is an absolute blending of the quality of a building that you would get downtown … with that of the serenity of a parklike setting,” Cruickshank said.
Birds Roosting in Trees Adjacent to Business Park – A Mixed Blessing
Also flocking to Willingdon Park are birds, in particular crows. From late summer to the spring, the crows roost by the tens of thousands in trees along Still Creek, a protected strip of natural habitat that runs through the business park.
“The businesses and the development there have actually moved into what was traditionally a crow roost,” said George Clulow, vice-president of the B.C. Field Ornithologists. “And the crows have hung in.”
During the last Christmas bird count, he estimated 18,000 crows were roosting in the business park. That number has been as high as 30,000 in the past.
The presence of the birds is a mixed blessing. The crows also like to roost in the trees along Still Creek Drive and on top of the buildings. This can be murder on parked cars.
“You like to have the wildlife around but there are side effects,” Cruickshank said. “And frankly, the droppings of the birds can add up when you get a significant population.”
An unabashed crow booster, Clulow noted that efforts have been made to discourage the birds, such as using falcon noises, but they haven’t had any lasting effect. In fact, as the surrounding area has become more developed, such as with car dealerships, the loss of those trees has pushed even more birds into Willingdon Park.
That the birds even have that space is a credit to the City of Burnaby, Clulow said. Unlike Vancouver, Burnaby did not culvert its streams.
“There’s a compromise being struck here between some natural areas and a highly developed area,” Clulow said. “And you know, with a bit of care and consideration, people and birds can live happily side by side.”
Park Offers Natural Setting to Office Workers
The setting also makes for happy workers who are looking for better work-life balance. They are also less likely to drive cars these days, which means the park’s approximately 2,000 parking stalls are more than adequate.
“We don’t like to hibernate in buildings and that’s where this park really offers something to the corporations that go there,” Cruickshank said.
Gross annual rents are in the mid to high $30 a square foot range for class A office space, Hewitt noted. That compares with over $50 downtown.
“If we can provide accessibility and amenities and the quality of infrastructure at a reasonable gross price point, then I think that we’ve got a winner,” she said.
Further urbanization of the surrounding area, such as new condos near the Brentwood Town Centre, will also “have a very positive impact,” Cruickshank said.
So the park’s story should have a happy ending. Not that it ever will end.