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The Stack opens in Vancouver, aims to energize return-to-office movement

Oxford Properties, CPP Investments tower the first in North America built to zero-carbon standards

Vancouver's 37-storey, net-zero carbon The Stack office tower, developed by Oxford Properties and CPP Investments, has officially opened. (Courtesy Oxford/CPP Investments)
Vancouver's 37-storey, net-zero carbon The Stack office tower, developed by Oxford Properties and CPP Investments, has officially opened. (Courtesy Oxford/CPP Investments)

Roughly four years elapsed between the ground-breaking ceremony and the grand opening of The Stack, the new 37-storey office tower at 1133 Melville St. in Vancouver developed by Oxford Properties Group with CPP Investments.

During that time, the global (and local) office market experienced a seismic shift prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent work-from-home revolution. In Vancouver, the overall downtown office vacancy climbed from roughly two per cent into double digits today.

Into this highly competitive market comes The Stack, which marked its grand opening on Sept. 12. However, the striking, cutting-edge tower has a number of key advantages which has helped it attract a robust roster of tenants.

It is the first office tower to attain the Canada Green Building Council’s Zero Carbon Building - Design standard certification and the first high-rise commercial tower in North America built to zero-carbon standards, according to its designers and developers.

The stakeholders behind the tower said the building launches at a time when the global and local tenant mix is once again seeking top-shelf space in desirable areas in buildings that feature wellness, smart tech and luxurious amenities.

The zero-carbon designation is also a key attractor for the building on the western edge of the financial district.

Design specs of The Stack

Designed by Vancouver-based architecture firm James K.M. Cheng, the 37-storey, class-AAA tower adds 550,000 square feet to the city's office inventory while also providing a distinct appearance to the city’s skyline with its unique twisting, stacked box design.

Tenants of the tower so far include BDC, Blakes, DLA Piper, Canaccord Genuity, Fluor and Plenty of Fish. The tower's top exterior is labelled by EY, another of the tenants. Local restaurant Nook will open a 5,000-square-foot location in the ground level.

All of the eventual 3,000 workers in the building will have access to a communal rooftop. At 530 feet, the rooftop provides views of English Bay, Stanley Park, Burrard Inlet and the North Shore Mountains. The rooftop terrace is available for building users to reserve for events.

"We're 84 per cent leased today," Ted Mildon, vice-president, office leasing and operations at Oxford Properties, said in an interview prior to the grand opening.

"We're always talking to more groups, so we hope to have more news in the coming months, but we're really happy with the leasing performance today."

Oxford is owned by the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS).

Vancouver's downtown office vacancy 12.6 per cent

The addition of The Stack comes as downtown Vancouver grapples with its highest office vacancy in recent memory and as companies contemplate strategies to bring their employees back to the office on a regular basis.

The downtown office vacancy rate in Q2 2023 reached 12.6 per cent. That climbed from 11.1 per cent in the previous quarter, according to Avison Young’s latest Metro Vancouver Office Market Report.

Asked about the experience of starting and then completing a massive office tower on either side of the pandemic, Mildon said the key has been offering a mix of modern amenities in a desirable location.

“We’re seeing in cities across the globe that providing employees with a high-quality workplace experience has been an integral part in successful ‘return-to office’ programs for firms looking to unlock the benefits of in-person collaboration,” Mildon said. 

Wellness at core of tenant recruitment

The design team prioritized employee experience and wellness in the building, with architectural elements such as operable windows for natural ventilation, several outdoor terraces and a landscaped pocket park that features a public art installation by West Coast artist Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun.

The building also features a 5,000-square-foot fitness centre, 250 bike parking stalls and end-of-trip facilities. Mildon told RENX the elevators are the fastest in the city and take only 30.5 seconds from lobby to roof.

"The response has been fantastic and that's translated into leasing," Mildon said. "It's amazing what a vibrant environment can do."

A "truly Vancouver building"

In 2019 James Cheng, the founder of James K.M. Cheng Architects, joked in the Vancouver Sun that he suspected he might be fired when he revealed his initial sketches of the massive, stacked tower to the development team. Clearly, that didn’t happen.

"This is not a conventional building," he told RENX in an interview during the grand opening. Cheng said his greatest pride is that The Stack is truly a Vancouver building: "It's a building that you can't transplant to Calgary or Toronto or New York."

Cheng said the building seems to have touched on something special, which is to treat sustainability holistically. That means The Stack is designed, programmed and operated to meet the environmental, social, cultural and economic needs of its tenants and visitors.

It’s not just about zero carbon, he said.

"An office building really is an opportunity for people to gather and exchange ideas and produce,” Cheng said. “That's been around for centuries and probably isn't going anywhere over the long term.”

Achieving net-zero carbon

The Stack was able to achieve zero-carbon status through its implementation of features that reduce carbon emissions and energy intensity, including low-carbon building systems and a high-performance triple-pane glazing system.

The Stack also deploys smart building technology to provide data on energy management, optimize building performance and enable preventative maintenance.

On-site renewable energy is achieved through a rooftop photovoltaic solar panel array that will generate 26,000kWh of energy annually.

The Stack becomes a beacon for the city and a place for office workers to focus on innovation, problem solving and “dreaming”, Kevin Brennan, Canada managing partner with EY, West and B.C., said.

Occupying a space in The Stack is expected to attract talent to return to the office, including for their firm, Brennan said during his remarks at the ceremony.

"There's no doubt in my mind that the tenants within this building will redefine the core of the city, putting The Stack at the centre, and promoting economic prosperity."

Mildon said the perspective and the use of downtown office space is evolving.

“We have long foreseen the evolution of the office from simply being the production floor where employees congregated to complete tasks into a destination that creates employee engagement and drives collaboration, learning and mentorship for high-performing teams."

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