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From east to west: The global flight to quality transformation in Vancouver’s office landscape

The Work Project, a 30,000 sq ft coworking and office space in Hong Kong, exhibits a quality of design similar to a luxury hotel: several restaurants, four gyms, private amenities and fresh brewed organic coffee, among other amenities, all in high-ceilinged, airy rooms with lush living walls.

Halfway across the world in Vancouver, real estate developers are trying to emulate these qualities in their new office spaces. With the “flight to quality” trend becoming more prevalent than ever, conventional office spaces just aren’t cutting it anymore in today’s market.


Development trends from Asia to Vancouver


Marco Polo, an upcoming project from Gryphon Development, was designed with quality in mind. Hailing from Taiwan, CEO Jason Hsu is well-versed in spaces like The Work Project and is now looking to bring the best of Asia to Vancouver.

The strata units at Marco Polo consist of 198 office spaces, 45 residential units and 13 retail units. While a very common model in Asia, this type of unit mix is still fairly new to the Canadian market.

“We want to create a vertically integrated community,” says Denis Yung, director of marketing at Gryphon.

At $0.85 per sq ft, strata fees are higher than average, but the developer is striving to provide higher-than-average amenities in return.

From the Curator Club, a coworking lounge and atrium, to health and wellness amenities such as cryosense and light therapy spaces, these new features would not likely have been seen in past developments.

Marco Polo’s relationship with the Vancouver Metropolitan Orchestra also emphasizes employee wellness, as conversations around workplace mental health have increased in the years following the pandemic.

“Art doesn’t only mean visual art”, explains Yung. “We wanted to specifically incorporate music into this project.”


Returning to the office: Flight to quality playing out in Vancouver


There has been ongoing debate between employers and employees in Canada when it comes to returning to the office. However, in Asia and Europe, office occupancy appears to be performing better overall than in North America, and fewer work-from-home days per employee are reported.

“The office landscape, honestly, it’s kind of topsy turvy right now”, explains Robert Veerman, senior associate at CBRE.

“In the post-pandemic world, we’re returning to work, but we’re also heading into a bit of recession right now. Companies are taking less space and overall downsizing, but are using this opportunity to upgrade as well.”


“The filet mignon is now less expensive than the hamburger”


Veerman further elaborates on the ongoing trend towards better quality office space: “When demand was in full swing, there wasn’t enough supply. But, right now that same AAA space has vacancies and is able to fill it up right by offering lower rates or incorporating tenant improvement (TI) allowances. And in the office sphere in the B and C class space, they don’t have those same amenities.

He explains, “As an office tenant, you could choose between the filet mignon or the fast food hamburger. It would be the same price, pound for pound. But the filet mignon is now less expensive than the hamburger. You’re going to choose a filet mignon because it has everything else that comes around it, and I think that’s probably a large trend that we’re seeing.”

Another developer, Conwest Developments, is also adding higher-quality office spaces to Vancouver with Riverworks, located along the edge of the Fraser River.

“When we design and build for end users, we are intentionally thoughtful about how they will use the space and how the space will support their business and lifestyle”, describes Alicia Chung, senior director of sales and marketing.

“We take into consideration how they grow into it for their business, because we want to deliver a building with longevity for the owners, so, what does that look like? What do the users need within that? Who’s going to be there? What do they expect? How will they enjoy the space?”


Mass return to the office on the horizon?


The big question is whether these ongoing efforts from real estate developers and builders will result in a more enthusiastic office return for employees.

“Right now, Vancouver is doing better overall than the rest of North America in terms of vacancy – it actually is doing the best in relation to all the US and the rest of Canada,” says Veerman.

“My guess is there will be more and more focus on “good” space, and good space planning.”

With Marco Polo’s completion anticipated by late 2027, Yung stated that interest in the project has been strong so far, which could be an indicator of the direction the workplace wellness trend is heading.

“Attracting talent back to the office is challenging. But we hope to create an office environment that is both collaborative and social.”