The developer of a planned mixed-use tower in downtown Vancouver says market conditions and economic headwinds demand caution and prudence as developers work to maintain pipelines of viable commercial and residential projects.
Nonni Property Group is working to bring a proposal to the City of Vancouver for 888 Cambie St. The 27-storey tower redevelopment is near Smithe and Cambie Streets, on a site the family-owned company has retained for nearly three decades at the crossroads of Yaletown and the stadium district.
Market conditions are tough today, said Gino Nonni, president, CEO and founder of Nonni Group.
His firm got its start as Serracan Properties in 2000 and focuses on urban mixed-use developments spanning office, industrial, retail and residential — including purpose-built rental homes.
"There are no easy sites left," Nonni told RENX in an interview. "We have to look to our municipal partners to get creative to make projects happen.
"Interest rates are high. There's definitely an escalation of construction costs. Labour markets are extremely challenged."
The current strategy requires diligence in acquiring sites and expanding the business in a "complicated" market, Nonni said.
In addition to these concerns, macro conditions have grown more uncertain in recent days amid global banking failures involving Silicon Valley Bank and Credit Suisse. Ongoing bailouts and interventions of those institutions bring back memories of the 2008 financial crisis.
888 Cambie ready for the next step
Economic and financial challenges aside, Nonni said he feels it is "prime time" for the 888 Cambie project.
The Stanley Brock office building currently occupies the site. The two-storey structure was built about 80 years ago.
"When I bought the property . . . there were really not a lot of things happening in that neighbourhood," Nonni said, but now the potential has become obvious for the property, which is within strolling distance of Yaletown, BC Place and Rogers Arena.
“Twenty-seven years later, things have developed very well around it."
Nonni hopes to soon submit a proposal to the city to develop an "iconic" building that could blend commercial use on the lower two or three floors, and perhaps a mix of rental homes and market condos above.
The building has Heritage C designation from the city so "we're looking to likely retain the facade" of the existing building, Nonni said, noting they have not yet had advanced discussions with the city about the heritage requirements but “recognize the importance of it.” (Nonni’s renderings depict the existing facade in the new tower plan).
The alley is extra wide thanks to the neighbourhood's legacy as a warehousing district. There is a general plan to find a way to animate the lane, perhaps with some kind of artistic or digital animation installation, Nonni said.
A cautious approach given market conditions
Reflecting on economic and financial headwinds and other challenges developers are facing, Nonni said it serves as a reminder to be cautious in all real estate operations.
“Don't be over-leveraged and ensure that when you're making decisions to move forward, you're doing it in an economically sustainable fashion. Make sure that your house is in order in relation to what could happen in future.”
Founded more than two decades ago, the Vancouver-based company rebranded in 2022 to the Nonni name.
The company also sold off its office building at 510 Seymour St. in downtown Vancouver around that time, but Nonni continues to operate its headquarters there as a tenant.
Elsewhere in its portfolio, Nonni Group is planning Phase 1 of a 65,000-square-foot, multi-tenant industrial development in Port Coquitlam. Called Centre Point One Business Park, Nonni said construction on that project should begin within 90 days.
The company is also working on rezoning for a purpose-built rental building near the Burquitlam SkyTrain station in Coquitlam.
The hope is construction on that project could start later this year, Nonni said.
The developers recently wrapped up work on Fraser Commons on Southeast Marine Drive in South Vancouver. It's a four-building complex with 363 homes including rental units, a child-care centre, community neighbourhood house and ground-level retail.
"We just completed that in the last 12 months (and are) very proud of that development," Nonni said.