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Billionaire developer talks plans for Vancouver waterfront site

When he first came to Vancouver, Oei Hong Leong says was struck by what a green city it was. As a result, the coming development sitting on the waterfront near BC Place, will be called Expo Gardens and its design will focus heavily on terraced buildings with gardens and green spaces at every level.

Globe and Mail Update

The developer of a key piece of property along Vancouver's False Creek waterfront says he wants it to be a contribution to the city – and that means he won't be selling any of the 1,400 units overseas.

"We're thinking more how to do it for the community," said Oei Hong Leong, who has owned the former Expo 86 site around Plaza of Nations since 1989 through a company called Canadian Metropolitan Properties. He has made most of his money through other commercial ventures, not development. "We have no marketing office overseas. The only market is Vancouver."

He was in Vancouver on a visit from his Singapore home, although he owns a house in Vancouver as well.

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Mr. Oei, a Singapore billionaire who is considered one of Southeast Asia's richest men, said he also wants to give back to the community in Northeast False Creek by building a museum that could display some of the 50,000 Buddhist artifacts that he has collected.

And, in keeping with his image of Vancouver, he wants the development to be like a garden.

When he first came to Vancouver, he says was struck by what a green city it was.

In fact, Singapore's prime minister, who also visited the city the year after Expo and encouraged Mr. Oei to buy property here, was so impressed by that aspect that he pushed to have Singapore emulate the "garden city" feel of Vancouver.

As a result, the development, which sits on the waterfront near BC Place, will be called Expo Gardens and its design focuses heavily on terraced buildings with gardens and green spaces at every level.

Architect James Cheng, who has been working for years on the project, has produced a conceptual model that shows buildings that frame a view of BC Place and that step down to the ground. There will also be some bridges between buildings and several roof gardens.

"It just turned out that Mr. Oei's vision from the beginning was to do a series of gardens," Mr. Cheng said. That's why we do the terracing, because every terrace can have a garden on it. We want multiple levels so the public can have different perspectives."

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The current design also envisions building a new island in False Creek, called Habitat Island.

Mr. Oei's portion of the new Northeast False Creek neighbourhood will also include a novel community amenity that was worked out a few years ago with local residents and the Aquilini company.

That will be a community centre and skating rink that the Vancouver Canucks hockey team, owned by the Aquilinis, can use as a practice facility during the day.

The Aquilinis and Mr. Oei have committed that the centre's operating costs will be covered by them, not the park board, which gives the area a new community centre and part-time rink for free.

The Canadian Metropolitan property is part of a much larger area that city planners are currently mapping out as a new downtown neighbourhood.

The company that did much of the original development of the old Expo lands, Concord Pacific, owns a larger piece of property to the east, while the B.C. agency PavCo, which operates BC Place, owns a small area large enough for one tower near the stadium.

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The city is just starting to go through a process to establish a plan for the area, which will, if approved by council, result in the removal of the two viaducts that now run across Concord and city land.

That will then clear the way for a large park and city-developed housing on the land where the viaducts now come down east of Main. The city is envisioning 10,000 new residents in the area over all.

Planners have also said they want to make the waterfront in the area a destination with a lot of restaurants and shops, unlike much of the rest of Vancouver's waterfront, which is dominated by pedestrian and bike pathways on the seawall and no commercial activities.

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About the Author
Urban affairs contributor

Frances Bula has written about urban issues and city politics in B.C.’s Vancouver region, covering everything from Downtown Eastside drug addiction to billion-dollar development projects, since 1994. More

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