Blog by Mark Longpre

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Ritz Carleton back on the block

The new condominium market seems to be alive and well in Vancouver with the Ritz-Carlton on West Georgia Street the latest in a string of mothballed projects that are coming back to life.

Construction of the planned 60-floor Ritz-Carlton — with a 127-room luxury hotel occupying the first 20 floors and 123 condominiums above — started in March 2008, but was halted last fall as the economy nose-dived.

In February, only half of the condos, which ranged in price from $1.4 million to $28 million, had been sold and the project was shelved.

But earlier this month, the project’s developer, Holborn Group, applied to the city to add height to the current design and increase the density of the project, Holborn’s president and CEO Joo Kim Tiah said.

Tiah hopes to have approval in place by the end of the year so that construction can start again in March 2010.

Whether the Ritz-Carlton will still be part of the plan is up in the air, though the two groups have agreed to work together to see whether the building can be re-engineered to make it viable, said Michael Beckley, senior vice-president of development with Ritz-Carlton in Canada.

The building design — a twisting tower by Arthur Erickson — is “stunning,” Beckley said. But “the space wastage was incredible.”

So the two groups need to find a way to redesign the building to increase both the number of hotel rooms and the number of condominiums, “without taking away Erickson’s stamp on it,” Beckley said.

At the same time, Ritz-Carlton has certain brand standards that have to be met at every hotel bearing its name.

“But if we can make it work, we want to make it work,” Beckley said.

Other projects once on hold have been taken off the back burner to become sizzling successes.

Ninety per cent of the units in Richards were sold in 45 days this spring and summer after being temporarily put on hold, Tracie McTavish, president of Rennie Marketing said. It was the first presale in a year and he called it “a roaring success.”

Next up for Rennie Marketing is Maynards Block False Creek Flats, which will come to market in the next two to four weeks, McTavish said.

In July, Concord Pacific had even hotter success, selling more than 230 units in its Cosmo project in under three days.

And construction at Jameson House on West Hastings Street is also back on track now that the developer’s financial woes have been soothed and a new partner, Bosa Properties, has joined the team.

Like Richards and Cosmo, Jameson House is lowering its prices, even for those who had already committed through presales.

But lower prices may not be here for long.

“Prices are coming back to where they were and the activity is definitely there again,” McTavish said. “It’s a very healthy market.”

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