Vancouver-based real estate company Low Tide Properties continues to solidify its presence in the life sciences space with plans to bring another building to the market in the city’s False Creek Flats neighbourhood.
Lab 29, to be located near the new St. Paul’s Hospital campus, will add more than 200,000 square feet to the market in an industry that is burgeoning in Vancouver.
“In terms of life science space, we’re likely the largest landlord in the City of Vancouver,” said Adam Mitchell, vice-president of asset management and development for Low Tide Properties.
“We operate over 500,000 square feet of lab space . . . probably have about 14 different tenants in that space. We’ve owned lab buildings since 2013. We’ve got a long history of owning and operating life science space in the City of Vancouver.”
The company currently has four dedicated life science buildings and a fifth one that is half life science and half office.
“The reason why we’re so specific with the type of buildings we buy is we like to view ourselves as a true partner for our tenants. It takes a lot of management knowledge to run a life science building properly for these tenants,” explained Mitchell.
“So it’s about being able to offer them a skillset on our side in terms of the building and how we manage it that will kind of allow them to leverage talents and resources to do the incredible things that they all do.”
Low Tide’s evolving building portfolio
Low Tide, a privately held investment and operating company, has been around since 2010. It either buys or develops properties and holds them in a portfolio for the long term.
All management of properties is done in-house, from leasing to building operations to property management. It also owns a number of properties in the Vancouver and Seattle markets.
The company specializes in what it refers to as “creative office” – technology and life science space. It also focuses on flex industrial space in urban locations.
In the Seattle area, it owns a number of multiresidential properties, primarily apartment buildings with ground-floor retail.
Low Tide owns a neighbouring building to Lab 29 which is at 1618 Station St. and occupied by STEMCELL Technologies.
Also nearby, on Great Northern Way, Low Tide owns nine properties – some outright and some in partnership with PCI Developments – which are a mixture of office buildings as well as some development sites in and around the SkyTrain Station.
Mitchell said the False Creek Flats area has been labeled as the innovation district which includes education and health uses.
Lab29 will be located next to the STEMCELL building.
“It’s a great opportunity to add a dedicated life science building to the market because really there hasn’t been a purpose-built life science building for quite some time in the City of Vancouver as land costs have gone higher and construction costs for these buildings are quite high,” said Mitchell.
“It gets harder and harder to justify building them.
“But we thought we had a really good opportunity here with the surrounding complementary uses of the existing building and the St. Paul Hospital coming in, that we could create a dedicated building where the market really wanted in this area that offers all these amenities and synergies that are right adjacent to the site.”
Startups constrained by life sciences property market
Mitchell said Vancouver is a great place for startup companies but once they get to a certain size they run out of options in the market because there hasn’t been much new lab space built in the city over the last 10 to 20 years.
“What often happens is these companies grow to a point where they are acquired by larger companies,” said Mitchell.
“If they’re running it themselves, they just need more space and if they’re trying to do that in the City of Vancouver, they run out of options and they have to leave.
“Either the tenant will leave the city and go somewhere else or if they get acquired by a larger U.S. lab company they’ll get consolidated down to either Seattle or San Francisco or Boston.
“These companies have a great platform to get started here but then they can’t continue to grow and operate here and we felt that was a huge gap in our market to be able to keep and retain some of these companies that are really doing world-leading research.”
Blair Quinn, vice-chairman of CBRE in Vancouver, sold the Lab 29 property to Low Tide more than 10 years ago as well as the STEMCELL building.
He said the Vancouver market is behind in inventory for the life science sector.
“Now Low Tide is endeavoring to build what they’re calling the first multi-tenant, speculative life science building in 15 years since the last one next door was built,” said Quinn.
“Their intent is to capture this burgeoning life science market and pre-build a 210,000-square-foot life science- or lab-capable building.”
Pre-leasing underway for spec life science building
CBRE has been retained as the leasing team to market and pre-lease the nine-storey building in the shadow of the future St. Paul’s Hospital.
It will include a 10,000-square-foot rooftop sky garden, 6,000 square feet of ground-floor food service and retail, 1,300 square feet of rooftop conference space and a 2,500-square-foot gym.
The project is currently before the city for a development permit. Quinn said Lab 29 is expected to break ground in June with occupancy in 2026. The new St. Paul’s Hospital is scheduled to open in 2027.
“St. Paul’s is a medical research and development hospital. . . . It’s going to be a real medical science research hub,” said Quinn.
“That anchors the northside of the False Creek/Mount Pleasant area. The southside is anchored by BC Cancer and Vancouver General Hospital. So you’ve got three major medical institutions all in the same ecosystem.
“All the life science companies have chosen this particular sub-market, this medical district, as the place to be to be close to those hospitals and close to all the employees and quite frankly close to town and close to transit and all the amenities.”