More than a decade after they began making their mark on San Diego, Vancouver developers continue to plan and build major projects in the downtown area and beyond.
The Canadian influence is led by two well-known powerhouses: Bosa Development Corp. and Pinnacle International. Bosa is constructing the 41-story Pacific Gate at Pacific Highway and Broadway, with a companion tower planned. Pinnacle International recently opened the 484-unit, 46-story Pinnacle on the Park in East Village, which is the tallest apartment building downtown. A twin tower to the north could open in 2019.
So, what’s the appeal? Why San Diego? Yes, we have hockey … but it’s minor league hockey.
There are quite a few similarities between the cities:
• Both have the eighth largest population in their countries.
• The landscapes of the two cities are similar, with natural beauty in all directions, from the mountains to the Pacific Ocean.
• Both have high housing costs.
Nat Bosa, president of Bosa Development, obviously sees opportunity.
“It will be spectacular for San Diego,” he told The San Diego Union-Tribune when his firm began moving forward with its twin-tower proposals. “We’re doing a lot of work in San Francisco and Seattle right now. But San Diego is getting exciting. It’s really starting to rev up. San Diego is going to be ‘Wow!’ It’s coming to where I envisioned it a long time ago.”
He’s not alone in bringing a touch of Vancouver to San Diego.
AJ Tangsoc, who grew up in Vancouver, was drawn to San Diego because of his love of the outdoors, not the dream of constructing new development. But a high-rise apartment and its tiny patio didn’t let him take full advantage of the local weather.
He is setting out to change that. His latest project merges Vancouver’s expertise in high-rise construction with San Diego’s focus on indoor/outdoor living.
Tangsoc’s father ran Regent International, a real estate development company based near Vancouver, which has done everything from single-family homes to high-rise towers.
In 2011, Tangsoc established Icon Properties as an American affiliate of Regent. He’s completed Parc Riviera in Pacific Beach and another project in Scottsdale, Ariz.
And he’s about to break ground on his third project. 41 West will be the father-son duo’s first U.S.-based high-rise. A modern residential tower with a boutique twist, it will be a block from Balboa Park in Bankers Hill.
“San Diego’s recent growth in size, culture and significance reminds me of Vancouver’s trajectory over the past decade,” Tangsoc said. “Both cities have highly educated, diverse populations. Both have thriving innovation ecosystems, and both are graced with unparalleled natural beauty.”
There’s a term for the successful urban revitalization strategy that the Canadian city has exported: Vancouverism.
Slim high-rises contribute density, while low-rise buildings welcome in light and resplendent views. Parks, public spaces and walkable streets are pedestrian oriented, and transit is plentiful.
“Vancouverism combines deep respect for nature with enthusiasm for busy, engaging, active streets and dynamic urban life,” the city says on its website. Visiting planners and urban designers have for years carried the ideas home, including to San Diego.
“They created a place that was mostly geared toward residents, a great park, great urban centers like Granville Island and theater for kids, with clean energy in many cases, and a good transportation system,” said Norm Miller, a professor of real estate finance at University of San Diego’s Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate. “By doing so, they have been successful in attracting tourists.”
Vancouver developers have long been building dense high-rises, and when San Diego needed to rejuvenate its downtown, the former redevelopment agency of San Diego called for a significant increase in residential growth.
“The Vancouver folks with the experience saw the incredible waterfront of downtown San Diego and the push for high-density residential, and they stepped in to fill the need,” said Stath Karras, executive director of University of San Diego’s Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate.
Howard Blackson, urban designer and a senior associate with Michael Baker International, said Vancouver’s model was the appropriate one for vitalization of downtown San Diego, and it quickly and effectively changed the skyline.
But, he said it’s also time for a new wave of development.
“The Vancouver model’s ubiquitous slender-point towers wrapped by townhouses was the appropriate first step in inviting suburbanites back to downtown,” Blackson said. “However, today we are accepting and wanting mixed-use, walkable urbanism and can build it more robustly.”