Stay in touch with NIHO!

CBC considers selling Vancouver building to free up money for programming

Frances Bula, The Globe & Mail, May 26, 2015

The CBC is exploring whether to sell its $57-million downtown Vancouver broadcast centre as part of a national plan to reduce its real-estate holdings.

The 2.1-acre site may have “developable density” that could make it attractive as more than just another office building for sale, said Fred Mattocks, the CBC’s manager of media operations and technology for CBC English services.

The building, which underwent a $65-million renovation in 2009 after the CBC sold off part of the site for two Concord Pacific condo towers, is in an increasingly lively part of the city’s eastern downtown. The former main Canada Post office on the next block is about to redeveloped, the refurbished Queen Elizabeth Theatre is across the street and a potential new art gallery is being talked about on another neighbouring block.

Mr. Mattocks said no firm decision has been made about whether to sell the building, which is the second-largest CBC English-language production centre in the country.

The CBC has recently asked local brokers to investigate possibilities, just as it did with its headquarters in downtown Toronto earlier this year.

“The building is not on the market yet because we’re exploring,” Mr. Mattocks said. “We’re told there is a probability there is developable density.”

But Vancouver’s general manager of planning says the city is anxious to ensure the CBC stays on the site, and says there would be restrictions on any new density.

“We want the CBC to remain in this area,” Brian Jackson said. “And the importance of the plaza [in front of the building] can’t be overestimated. We don’t want to lose any public space in this area or lose the CBC production facility. It is part of our cultural precinct.”

He said there would be other limitations on the site as well.

The city would restrict any new building from going higher than 90 metres to preserve sightlines. Also, because planners want to ensure that the downtown maintains enough space for jobs, the site has to have a certain amount of office space on it before city council would even consider more residential development.

Mr. Mattocks said the analysis will look at whether it makes sense to sell and lease back, stay in the building as is, or consolidate CBC operations into less space to lease out more of the existing building.

“I’m sure brokers are preparing presentations about the potential of the site. Hopefully, there will be a clear enough proposition that we’ll have a marketplace offer.”

Mr. Mattocks said this is part of a national effort to reduce infrastructure so the public broadcaster’s money can be put into programs instead.

The CBC has seen reductions in the amount of staff and space it needs in recent years partly because of technology, but also partly because of successive rounds of job cuts. It has lost both direct funding from the federal government over the years and money from advertising when it lost the national broadcast rights to Hockey Night in Canada last year.

Mr. Mattocks said he didn’t have exact numbers on how much of the Vancouver building is unused, but said “it’s a significant amount – a mixture of unused and badly used space.” The CBC already rents out some space to two tenants.

According to the Landcor Data Corporation, which assesses the market value of B.C. real estate, the site and building have gained dramatically in recent years, going from $39-million in 2012 to $57-million this year.