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Tight industrial market spurs multi-level innovation

Russell Hixson
Tight industrial market spurs multi-level innovation
OXFORD PROPERTIES - A rendering shows Oxford Properties’ plans to build a multi-level industrial property in Burnaby, B.C. The project concept is a first for Canada but has been done for years in tight industrial markets like Asia for decades.

BURNABY, B.C. – In a first for Canada, a multi-level industrial development is being built in B.C.

 Oxford Properties Group – a global commercial real estate investor, developer and manager – explained that land scarcity has pushed the company to take the innovative approach to get the most out of its industrial park site.

Planned as part of Oxford’s existing Riverbend Business Park in the south end of Burnaby, B.C., it will be Canada’s first large bay multi-level industrial property featuring 707,000 square feet over two levels.

The 64-acre brownfield area used to be a papermill but has been transformed into master planned business park which already features five industrial buildings.

The ground floor of the project will feature 437,000 square feet of space with 32-foot clear heights. The second storey will consist of 270,000 square feet of space, 28-foot clear heights and a 130-foot truck court. Miller explained that while ensuring the building could support the weight has been an engineering challenge, a more complicated problem has been providing full-size transport vehicle access to both levels. The design has solved this by adding a massive heated ramp.

Jeff Miller, head of industrial at Oxford Properties, explained that while the concept is new for Canada, it has been done in other parts of the world for decades.

“Multi-storey industrial projects have been done around the world for a couple of decades, particularly in Asia where land is really scarce,” Miller said. “Only in the past few years have we seen the concept creep into North America. It comes down to scarcity and rent. The economics to rent have to work on these buildings.”

Miller explained that the Vancouver market, like New York or Seattle, is expensive with high barriers to entry. Usable land is hard to come by so densifying is the natural solution.

“This is probably one of only a few markets in North America where this makes sense,” Miller said. “If there is available land in a market, they likely will not be doing multi-storey.”

Another issue facing Oxford’s clients is employee retention, so the company is investing in amenities to keep employees comfortable. The plan includes the construction of an amenity pier that stretches out into the Fraser River and walking trails that connect to the public trail system.

 “We have really focused on employee wellness and amenities which isn’t always common in an industrial park,” said Miller. “One of the reasons this is becoming more important is that labour is difficult to source. We want to make sure companies can attract and retain employees.” 

Miller also noted the new structure fits with Oxford’s sustainability values. Before any buildings were built, Oxford removed over 300,000 cubic metres of waste and debris and converted back into developable land. The company also implemented several initiatives to restore the shoreline of the adjacent Fraser River and help protect native species along the river. Invasive and non-native plant species were removed, improvements made to fish habitats and shoreline erosion protection measures installed. The buildings at Riverbend Business Park are also LEED Certified. Its efforts garnered the 2019 City of Burnaby Environmental Award.  

“Sustainability at Oxford is another core principle,” said Miller. “This park is a really great showcase of that. It is a great transformation from old use into a new master-planned development.”

Oxford is in the process obtaining the required planning and permitting approvals. Miller said earthworks are underway, construction is anticipated to begin in the spring and the project is expected to wrap up 2022.

Oxford intends to retain long-term ownership of the structure and does not yet have a tenant lined. Miller explained that rental flexibility has been designed into the structure. It can provide a single customer 707,000 square feet of contiguous space, making it the largest available industrial property in the Greater Vancouver Area. The two floors could also be operated and occupied independently and further segmented to accommodate multiple businesses in pieces as small as 70,000 square feet.


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