You can't make new land (Big Bangs are so rare these days), but there is a way to find more. Whether that adequately addresses Vancouver's industrial land shortage depends on who you talk to.
The innovative remediation completed this year at the old Delta Shake and Shingle landfill site is an example of how it can work. "It's economically feasible as long as you have the cooperation of all levels of government," says Sid Keay. He should know; as president of Ocean Trailer, he's the guy who bought the Delta site eight years ago—all 20 acres of "waste, puking, garbage dump." In tandem with landfill engineers like Tony Sperling and politicians like Delta Mayor Lois Jackson, he invested to clean up the site. Ocean Trailer, with 250 employees in total, built their 100k SF corporate HQ there. The total cost for remediation and the new buildings was $30M. (Sid, right, is snapped with Premier Christy Clark on the site.)
Above, the Ocean Trailer facility being constructed. Sid won't tell us what he paid for the land eight years ago, but it's worth over $50M now. (That looks like about $1 per window.) That project is spurring similar clean-ups in the Delta region, Tony tells us (his company, Sperling Hansen and Associates, is involved in at least 60 of them in B.C. in any given year). Does remediating land--acres of which have been sitting underutilized or under-used--address the land shortage in am impactful way, or is it a pebble in the ocean?
Brokers like Avison Young's Michael Farrell and CBRE's Chris MacCauley (photo) will tell you the land shortage issue is dire and developers buying contaminated land and restoring it for industrial use doesn't make much of a dent. "If a manufacturer came to me and said I would like to build a 100k SF facility on 10 acres, and half of that would be outside storage and rail spurs, he would have nowhere to locate in the Vancouver region," Michael says. While Chris acknowledges recovering contaminated land is still worthwhile, he says it's too risky for most developers. "Our land prices are already too high and then to add remediation costs makes projects very risky."
Beedie Development Group VP Dave Gormley tells us cleaning up sites will not solve the industrial land shortage issue. The size of land that is really in short supply is 15 or more acres to accommodate warehouse distribution uses, which are increasing in demand with the port expansion in container handling. "These warehouse users are looking for efficiencies in size." or 150k SF to 500k SF buildings, Dave says. (Above, OT launch event.)
Next Environmental president Dr. Harm Gross (above) calls Ocean Trailer a game-changer—the first scenario where levels of government came together to offer subsidies and financial incentives to the developer to invest in a clean-up (everyone we spoke with complimented Delta mayor Lois Jackson in particular). Harm has a doctorate in ecology and an MBA with a focus on finance (and is a former Scotibank executive), so he aims to secure an environmental certificate of compliance for clients by bridging the ecologists and the business folks. "Developers look at a property and they hear the techno babble and don't know what it means. As a consequence the property sits there for decade un-utilized and under-utilized," he says.
In the image is the Harbourside Business Park project. Another past project for Next was transforming the giant Versatile Shipyards on the North Vancouver waterfront into vibrant retail and residential. Whichever side of the fence you fall on, remediation certainly had a positive impact in Sid's case. Several landfill sites were developed in the Delta area as well as the Ocean Trailer site as part of the Delta Landfill Renewal Project, all benefiting from the new South Fraser Perimeter Road (a portion of the highway runs through the landfill sites), and all available for industrial usage. "[Remediation] is not the Holy Grail, but it does work," Tony Sperling says. (Indiana Jones was unavailable for comment.)