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A Visit to Westbank in Vancouver

By September 30, 2018

First Light

Westbank, the Vancouver-based developer building First Light at 3rd and Virginia, recently flew 40 real estate agents from Seattle to Vancouver on float planes, putting us up at their hotel, the Fairmont Pacific Rim and treating us to fancy meals at their hotels, Market by Jean Georges and the Botanist. While a treat, the purpose wasn’t to learn about First Light, we actually heard very little about the project, but to learn about Westbank who is entering the Seattle market with three projects with two more following after; an over $3 billion dollar investment.

What makes this remarkable is that many other developers and marketeers of new condos eschew buyer’s agents, not even giving us a preview of what they’re launching ahead of time. Westbank either truly values the roles that buyer’s agents play or sees that with thousands of condo units in the Seattle pipeline, they’re going to need as many people as possible promoting, what will likely be Seattle’s most expensive condo project to date.

As an introduction to Westbank, we met with Ian Gillespie, the head of Westbank, for about an hour of half hearing about his dedication to building the best buildings in the world and their spending millions on public art installations. We also got a glimpse of his collection of couture gowns, likely the largest private collection in existence. Then we saw his Woodward’s project and Telus Gardens followed by a hardhat tour of Vancouver House, a condo that starts with a 6,000 square foot floor plate that grows to 12,000 by the top floor. A building that wouldn’t have been possible to build until just recently. And one that they estimate would sell for nearly $3,000 CAD a square foot today.

For more background on Ian Gillespie and Westbank, I recommend this Globe and Mail article (the NYT of Canada), Ian Gillespie is a builder on a mission to ‘stretch the boundaries of what’s possible’. My takeaways from twenty-four hours in Vancouver was that Westbank truly does try and build the most pioneering buildings, budget be damned and relies heavily on foreigners who appreciate owning the best of the best, budget be damned.

Our group of ten seemed to leave Vancouver impressed, but skeptical. Seattleites aren’t known for their design sense and since so many are in tech, often put together countless spreadsheets to decide what to buy. Though I think we all welcome a developer coming in and forcing everyone else to improve their game. I for one can’t believe that we have, not one, but two brand new condos on the market right now with luxury vinyl plank flooring instead of say engineered hardwoods.

Westbank will be launching First Light in October and starting sales quickly thereafter with the goal of selling the majority of the building by the end of the year. They’ll start sales of a second condo project in mid-2019.

I can’t wait to see what their receiption is.

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