Sotheby's franchise merges with Montreal real estate firm; Vancouver real estate star falters, New Westminster's on the rise

Trapp+Holbrook, a Salient Group development in New Westminster, underscores the interest investors are taking in the city. New Westminster hosted an economic forum last week


360 Vox Corp. of Montreal is the new parent company of Vancouver-based Sotheby's International Realty Canada and Blueprint Global Marketing Ltd.

The deal is a landmark for the two companies, which founder Ross McCredie began developing with the May 2004 purchase of Premier Canadian Properties Ltd., a Sotheby's affiliate previously owned by Vancouver's Derek Trethewey. McCredie, a former marketing director for Intrawest, and two silent partners landed the master franchise rights for Sotheby's International Realty Affiliates Inc. in Alberta and B.C. in 2005. Today the company is the fifth-largest Sotheby's franchise and the largest of the Sotheby's International companies, with more than $2 billion in annual sales.

McCredie began exploring options for greater growth a year ago and attracted the interest of Ned Goodman, president and CEO of Dundee Corp., and chairman of 360 Vox – which, as its name suggests, pursues a well-rounded range of real estate interests.

"He sees the Sotheby's brand as an access point," McCredie said of Goodman's interest.

"We have a master-planning component, we have a capital sources company, we have project management [we're doing Haiti, for instance, for the Clinton foundation]. Now, when you layer in the Sotheby's story ... "

McCredie leaves the opportunities to the imagination, but points out that the executive team of 360 Vox – of which he'll be COO – is made up entirely of Intrawest veterans.

"It's kinda cool to put that whole team back together again," he said.

McCredie isn't worried by the cooling of housing markets in either Vancouver or Toronto, where Goodman is building thousands of units. Sotheby's sales are up 64% this year.

"Things are tough," he said. "[Owners] need people to market their properties locally, nationally and internationally."

City building


Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson's address to the Urban Land Institute (ULI) last week sought to outline a positive vision for the city, praising councils since 2008 for eschewing the "infighting" that plagued the three previous councils during the mayoralties of Sam Sullivan, Larry Campbell and Philip Owen. Councils on his watch had steered the city through the financial crisis, helping restore the city's credit rating (also lost on Robertson's watch, a fact not mentioned) and building activity – "fundamental to building the city we need" – is on track this year to be the second-highest in the city's history.

"The majority of us were resoundingly elected with a very clear platform," Robertson told his audience of approximately 500 industry professionals. "Coming from the business community, I'm in this to get things done. To be more entrepreneurial, be more creative and make sure that we deliver on those goals. That's why I'm the mayor."

However, the annual ULI/PricewaterhouseCoopers "Emerging Trends in Real Estate" report released the morning of Robertson's presentation suggests there's still work to do.

Vancouver, long the most desirable place to invest in Canada, slipped to a fourth-place ranking in this year's report. Bumped from its first-place ranking last year by Toronto, Vancouver this year fell behind Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto – in that order – on account of a cooling housing market and government regulation.

"Vancouver's government red tape continues to make it more difficult to develop real estate every year," the report said.

On the positive side, the report favours office, apartment, and industrial properties as investment prospects, in that order – a call based on low vacancies and strong lease rates in office and apartment properties and a strengthening manufacturing sector that's boosting demand for industrial space.

City rebuilding


New Westminster was set to host an economic forum the day after this column's deadline, but there's been enough talk about the city's revival to warrant a nod.

Indeed, the city issued $240.2 million in building permits last year, second only to the $254.2 million issued in 2006.

Robert Fung, lauded for his revitalization of Vancouver's Gastown, has been active in the city's core. His company, Salient Group, is redeveloping two buildings in the city's core as Trapp+Holbrook, a stylish new project Rennie Marketing Systems is marketing. (Bob Rennie was the luncheon speaker at the forum.)

Meanwhile, new office projects are rising.

Uptown Property Group is developing Merchant Square, a 130,000-square-foot office block next to New Westminster SkyTrain station, as well as Queen's Park West, a 26,000-square-foot project connected to the Westminster Centre complex.

These are in addition to TransLink's new headquarters (and other premises) under development at Wesgroup's Brewery District and a 400,000-square-foot complex Bentall Kennedy LP plans adjacent to Braid SkyTrain station. •

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