With Calgary’s downtown office vacancy rate stuck in the 25 per cent range, many real estate experts have suggested converting empty space in the Central Business District into residential use as one solution for the market.
But landlords and property owners haven’t been stampeding to actually follow through on that strategy. RENX has learned only five buildings during the past two years have been converted from office to rental in inner-city neighbourhoods such as Southwood, Beltline, South Calgary, Eau Claire and Tuxedo Park.
And, there are no further conversions planned, at least for the short term.
“We don’t have any in the queue right now, nothing in the queue at this moment,” said Sonya Sharp, the City of Calgary’s team lead, business and local economy, in an interview with RENX. “These (five buildings) are the ones that have been completed.”
According to commercial real estate firm CBRE, the downtown Calgary office market has an inventory of 42.3 million square feet across a total of 148 buildings.
That means about 10 million square feet of vacant space. So why haven’t there been more conversions?
Challenges repurposing office to residential
At the recent Calgary Real Estate Forum, a session highlighted the challenges landlords face in repurposing those offices to residential uses – Giving Older Assets A New Life: A Look at Repurposing Existing Properties & Sites.
Six buildings in the downtown core are more than 75 per cent vacant, while three buildings are empty said Greg Kwong, CBRE‘s executive vice-president and regional managing director in Alberta.
“People from the city and other people want to say ‘what are the solutions to getting our vacancy down, let’s repurpose half of downtown Calgary.’ It’s really just not possible given the current vacancy right now,” said Kwong.
In the suburban office market, 11 buildings are greater than 75 per cent vacant and nine buildings are 100 per cent vacant. There are 366 buildings in the suburban Calgary office market with a total of 25.8 million square feet.
“Even if we took (the completely vacant buildings) and converted them to condos – took them out of the office market – we still would have a very high vacancy rate,” Kwong added.
Also during the forum, Marco Civitarese, Calgary’s chief building official and manager, said the age and classification of a building is important in how it could be repurposed.
City tries to remove red tape
On June 13, 2017 Calgary council approved an initiative called the Centre City Enterprise Area. The directive made a number of amendments to a land use bylaw, removing significant barriers to save businesses thousands of dollars if they choose to open or relocate into the Central Business District.
The initiative was developed in collaboration with Calgary Economic Development, city administration, BILD Calgary, NAIOP, local business improvement areas, community associations and small businesses.
“The strategy behind it is really to increase vibrancy in the downtown. Gain some activation to residential living and repurposing buildings that are facing the crunch of vacancies right now,” said Civitarese.
During the real estate forum, Brian Rowland, associate with Zeidler Architecture, said architects can face design challenges in these conversion projects. These include existing layouts, windows that don’t open, and how exteriors are designed to suit the original purpose of the building.
“Usually they don’t include a bunch of vents. So they’re not anticipating 12 or 14 kitchens, and bathrooms, and washer/dryers on every floor,” he said.
Then there are surprises that are not anticipated in the architectural drawings.
“You start cutting into these buildings and finding these surprises you have to deal with as you go through. So it does create a new challenge,” Rowland explained. “The idea is just that we can take something that’s existing and repurpose it and really make it into something that’s contributing again to someone’s portfolio of holdings.”
Strategic Group’s office conversions
Ken Toews, senior vice president of development for Calgary’s Strategic Group, which has been busy converting office space to residential use in both Calgary and Edmonton, said it has been involved in six conversions.
He said while conversions are important to add residential space in downtown Calgary, for property owners they can take a non-performing or low-performing asset and convert it to a much more attractive asset.
“Why can’t we do more of these? Well, there’s a whole bunch of challenges that come when you’re repurposing a building. The first challenge is that the residential floor plate is almost always different than what you have for an office floor plate. So you have to really work with it to make it work,” said Toews. “And most buildings, it won’t.”
Even with the success of its conversions however, several weeks after the forum Strategic Group announced it was putting 56 of its Alberta properties under creditor protection.
The assets are primarily office buildings in Calgary. The challenging real estate market and continued uncertainty in the economy were cited as the reasons for the move.
New flexibility for vacant offices
Under Calgary’s Centre City Enterprise Area plan, businesses no longer require a development permit for changes of use, exterior alterations and small additions in the Beltline or Downtown for a three-year period (ending July 1, 2020).
Sharp said the Centre City Enterprise Area is a mapped out area of the downtown and into a small area of the Beltline to reduce retail and office vacancies in the core.
The city also wanted to make it easier to allow pop-up and interim uses in vacant office spaces.
“Pop-up uses are uses in approved buildings and no approvals are required. So a retail store can go in and out as long as they aren’t breaking any code rules,” said Sharp. “An interim use is up to six months and we’ve waived the development permit, and we’ve waived the business licence, and they would only be required to get a building permit if the building had been vacant more than six months or they’re doing any changes inside the building that will be required to get a building permit.
“We focused on the city wide for that because we have vacancies all over the city. We wanted to animate city spaces citywide. We wanted to provide opportunities for businesses to try out their product without having to go through all the city permits. It was an opportunity to reduce barriers and costs of starting a business in Calgary.”
Canadian Commercial Real Estate Industry Offers Support to National Vaccination Efforts – Canada NewsWire
TORONTO, Jan. 20, 2021 /CNW/ – REALPAC and its member organizations are pleased to announce an industry initiative to support the national vaccination rollout, through providing governments and health networks across Canada with the free use of vacant commercial space (such as retail space in malls, big box space, conference centres, hotels, industrial units, parking lots and office buildings) for use as vaccination sites.
“We see every day how hospitals are facing increasingly fragile scenarios, with provision of vital services being put on hold to divert resources to the COVID-19 response effort,” said Michael Brooks, CEO, REALPAC. “We also understand from governments that for Canada to successfully vaccinate its population by the intended September 2021 target, a very regimented approach will need to be taken.”
REALPAC, in partnership with its member organizations, has undertaken an initiative to identify unused commercial real estate space across Canada, to make available for free to governments and health networks to assist with the logistical rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. The goal is to provide an easily scalable portfolio of real estate assets that can form part of Canada’s distribution network to support the country’s vaccine mobilization effort. As reported by the BBC, a similar process is seeing success in the U.K., where the government is repurposing spaces such as convention centers and halls to serve as vaccination clinics.
REALPAC has secured the support of numerous CEOs, CFOs and COOs in its membership to participate in this initiative. These real estate owners are large, national operators with considerable real estate assets from coast to coast to coast, and are willing and eager to loan free space to government.
Participating members confirmed at this time include:
“Activating vacant real estate space as clinics for either vaccination or other medical services could reduce the logistical burden on hospitals and healthcare settings,” added Brooks. “REALPAC members are keen to work with the government to repurpose their unused spaces to function as vaccination sites, or storage spaces for vaccines, essential equipment, and medical supplies, which could greatly assist the vaccination rollout effort.”
REALPAC welcomes the opportunity to discuss this initiative with governments, policy makers, public health officials and healthcare networks, and direct inquiries to our participating members.
The commercial real estate industry remains committed to working with governments and healthcare networks to identify areas where space is needed and meet their needs to the best of our abilities. The industry would also like to sincerely thank governments, healthcare providers and front-line workers for their continued efforts to support Canadians during this pandemic.
Founded in 1970, REALPAC is the national leadership association dedicated to advancing the long-term vitality of Canada’s real property sector. Our members include publicly-traded real estate companies, real estate investment trusts (REITs), pension funds, private companies, fund managers, asset managers, developers, government real estate agencies, lenders, investment dealers, brokerages, consultants/data providers, large general contractors, and international members. Our members represent all asset classes in Canada – office, retail, industrial, apartment, hotel, seniors residential – from coast, to coast, to coast.
For further information: on this initiative, please contact: Michael Brooks, CEO, [email protected], 416.642.2700 x225, www.realpac.ca
Planon acquires a majority stake in real estate software company Reasult BV – Canada NewsWire
NIJMEGEN, Netherlands, Jan. 20, 2021 /CNW/ — The Planon Group and Reasult today announced that Planon has acquired a majority share in Reasult B.V., founded in 2000 and headquartered in Ede (the Netherlands). Reasult is a software company that optimizes the financial performance of real estate portfolios and projects. Reasult’s leading software solutions are used by real estate developers, asset managers and housing corporations in the Dutch- and German-speaking markets. Example customers are Amvest, a.s.r. real estate, VolkerWessels and HANSAINVEST.
The Reasult software suite includes solutions for real estate development, asset- and portfolio- management, valuation management and financial planning. Planon will combine the Reasult applications with its own solutions for asset management and tenant management and engagement, into one software suite. By doing so, Planon aims to support real estate owners and investors in optimizing the performance of their property portfolio from a financial, building operations and tenant engagement perspective.
“This acquisition is one of the first steps in Planon’s ambitious goals to accelerate its future growth. Planon firmly believes in the strength of Reasult’s solutions and its organization, both from a technical perspective and due to its extensive market knowledge and experience. It is therefore Planon’s plan to continue to expand the Reasult software suite, as it has done with previously acquired solutions such as SamFM and conjectFM. I am very excited about this acquisition and the possibilities it will offer to customers of both organizations to further develop their current solutions into an end-to-end property portfolio management solution,” said Pierre Guelen, CEO and founder of the Planon Group.
“As co-founder of Reasult 20 years ago, I am very excited about becoming part of a fast-growing global specialist in the field of building operations and service digitalization. With this move, Reasult will be able to further fulfil its strategy of offering a leading platform for optimizing real estate in the broadest sense. As part of a market leading organization, our customers and employees will benefit from this strategic step. The Planon and Reasult solutions are complementary which drives synergy and innovation. This collaboration will allow us to serve our customers in the best way possible and deliver innovative products to help real estate companies be ‘the best in class,'” said Aart Zandbergen, CEO at Reasult.
Medicine Hat's real estate market holds steady in 2020 – CHAT News Today
But as far as sales go, it’s very close to the city’s standard and is comparable to the 10-year average.
House prices have even gone up a little bit. Devine says the 6 percent increase is due to the cost of the new and bigger houses being built.
Meantime, the average residential home price is almost $300,000 for homes in Crescent Heights, Crestwood, and Ross Glen.
Relatively speaking, Devine says our city has been fairly stable during COVID-19 in the housing market and it hasn’t changed a whole lot.
“I think overall, people that have money still have money. COVID doesn’t affect those people too much. Working people, obviously the interest rate makes a big difference. For young people buying their first homes, interest rates make a big difference. I think due to the diversity of Medicine Hat and the economy here I think that’s why there are so many people buying and getting into starter homes.”
Devine expects 2021 to be a busy year for Medicine Hat in the real estate market
“I think the biggest factor is going to be probably people wanting to get out of cities and to a city of our size that has a lot to offer and has room to basically spread out and people aren’t so congested. I think it will be a very good thing for the city a size of Medicine Hat.”
For the December 2020 market trend summary from the Alberta Real Estate Association visit this link.
And as far as real estate goes, Devine says Medicine Hat is probably one of the most stable places in the country.
“Due to the diversity of the city. Obviously, the oil patch has an effect on us, but the size of the city is very good, farming and ranching community, manufacturing community, we have a lot of different things going for us in this area, so it works really good for the real estate market and keeps it very stable.”
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