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TransLink mega land deal details revealed

$450 million sale of Oakridge Transit Centre is 2016’s second-biggest public land deal in B.C.
TransLink’s 13.8-acre Oakridge Transit Centre on West 41st Avenue | Rob Kruyt

TransLink has sold its Oakridge Transit Centre in Vancouver to a consortium of investors that includes Vancouver developer Intergulf and Richmond-based

Kunyuan International Group, a company linked to China-based investors.

A third party remains unconfirmed but is said to be Beijing-based Modern Green Development Co. Ltd., operating as Modern Investment Group.

The sale price for the 13.8-acre (5.6 hectare) site on West 41st Avenue is between $425 million and $450 million, sources have told Business in Vancouver.

TransLink has imposed a cone of silence on the transaction, despite the involvement of public-owned land.

“TransLink is bound by confidentiality provisions and is unable to provide further detail as to who the prospective buyer[s] is [are] or the contemplated transaction particulars,” said Chris Bryan, a TransLink media relations adviser.

The confidentially agreements are apparently iron clad. An agent with Cushman & Wakefield Commercial, the real estate agency that brokered the sale, said, “We can’t even talk about it in the office.”

When asked for comment, Jimmy Jin, a Modern Investment Group development analyst, wrote in an email that “we don’t comment on rumors and speculation.”

Repeated attempts to reach the company again failed.

Modern Green has been active in joint ventures in B.C., most notably at the University of British Columbia (UBC), where it completed a residential project with UBC Properties Trust.

“I understand they continue to work with UBC in research matters relating to sustainable development and thus have an office on campus,” said Paul Young, director, planning and design with UBC Properties Trust.

Founded in 1995, Modern Green is a partner of China’s MG group of companies, which has developed more than 80 million square feet of residential and commercial buildings worldwide.

It is Kunyuan, however, that has become known for its aggressive acquisitions in Metro Vancouver, buying up more than $740 million in real estate assets in the past three years. The purchases included one of the region’s biggest real estate transactions in 2015 when it paid $114 million for New Westminster’s Royal Centre shopping complex.

The Oakridge transit land sale ranks in the top five real estate deals in Metro Vancouver this year and is the second-largest sale of public land in B.C. after the $480 million Jericho Lands deal earlier this year.

The Oakridge Transit Centre development lands have been approved for a density of approximately 1.26 million square feet of residential and retail, according to a 2015 City of Vancouver planning document. The proposed density is approximately 2.1 FSR (floor space ratio) over the entire site, or 2.5 FSR if a planned 2.3-acre park is not included in the calculation. The focus is on residential, with the city recommending that 20% of the homes be affordable housing.

“The majority of buildings will be mid-rise [six to 12 storeys]. The maximum height will be 15 storeys (or 150 feet), achievable in two identified locations,” said a staff report.

The city anticipates $73.5 million in development levies and community amenities.

TransLink considers the Oakridge transit site to be surplus land and has already transferred most of its buses and services to the Vancouver Transit Centre in South Vancouver.

There is no confirmation on the timing of development at the Oakridge site. The remaining transit centre services would have to move and the site cleaned up to modern environmental standards at TransLink’s expense. Building permit and development approvals would then need to be finalized with the City of Vancouver.

Intergulf, which has built more than 6,500 homes and is currently completing the Empire at QE Park residential strata project on Cambie Street, will be responsible for development of the site.

Ron Syder, Intergulf vice-president of acquisitions, declined comment.

The Oakridge transit project would also be a step up for Kunyuan International, which has been in a buying frenzy since it entered the Metro Vancouver market in 2013. According to a company statement, Kunyuan bought $120 million worth of Metro real estate that year and spent $230 million in 2014.

“In 2015 our transactions exceeded $400 million,” according to the company statement.

BIV ranked the company’s purchase of New Westminster’s 260,000-square-foot Royal City Centre shopping centre as 2015’s sixth-biggest real estate deal in Metro Vancouver.

When asked about the Oakridge transit deal, Kunyuan president, Kevin Li, first asked for the names of BIV sources.

“We have a confidentially agreement with TransLink and Cushman [and Wakefield],” Li said. “Sorry, but I can’t say anything about this.”