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Gastown – Gotta Have Heart

GOTTA HAVE HEART: The very oldest part of Vancouver is becoming new again. Not just cosmetically tarted up as Gastown was in its early-1970s first revival. “These buildings are now considered new for insurance purposes,” said Robert Fung. He meant the $65-million-worth of development his Salient Group is near to completing on Maple Tree Square and along Water Street.

The adjacent properties include the now-completed Terminus. It’s a $26- million project incorporating the 1886-built Terminus Hotel and the adjacent Grand Hotel. The latter sat unoccupied for 35 years and was owned by 11 separate deal-seeking groups until Salient acquired it in 2004. Today, the two properties feature 46 suites sized from 700 to 1,600 square feet and offered for $400,000 to $1.6 million. “Those go back to 2006 prices,” said Fung, 43, who served eight years as a Concord Pacific development manager after arriving from Toronto in 1990. “We’re selling them for what original buyers paid.”

The Terminus remained on the city’s endangered-list top 10 even after a fire that left only its 30-cm-thick facade shored up for years.

Alongside that Water Street project, the former Nagle Brothers Garage and the 1890s Cordage Building comprise a $27-million project of 34 residences ranging from 575 to 1,600 square feet. Priced from a tad below $400,000 to $1.6 million in 2007, they sold in 90 minutes.

On the square itself, the 123-year-old Alhambra hotel, is subject to a $12-million revivification, again as the retail restaurant and office facility it has been for decades.

“You can’t set up a legitimate business if the infrastructure isn’t working, and this building was falling apart,” Fung said. In fact, Salient itself will move back there after temporarily occupying the Richards-off-Pender Street Lumbermen’s Building it renovated “taking the life-cycle clock back to zero,” Fung called it – in 2007.

That project also entails opening up Blood Alley, and blending skylights and glass-walled commercial spaces into a zone characterized by vintage brickwork and leafy trees. Rather than seek LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) designation, as some Gastown developers have, Fung believes “more in going for good, practical, sustainable solutions that don’t penalize the buyers.”

He’d love to get his mitts on Cordova’s Street’s venerable Army & Navy store building. Has he talked to owner Jacqui Cohen? “Yes. She is very friendly, and she’s great in the neighbourhood.” Does that mean a deal is nigh? “She has many developer friends.”

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