Rennie praises Burnaby and pans David Suzuki in his annual keynote speech to Vancouver's development community
Each year for the past decade, Vancouver’s über condo marketer Bob Rennie has delivered the keynote address at the Urban Development Institute’s annual AGM and luncheon. The event draws a crowd of nearly one thousand—a mixture of developers, politicians and media types who come to hear Rennie’s take on the market and the numbers behind our city’s favourite pastime: real estate.
The narrative itself remains largely unchanged, year in and year out: developable land in the Lower Mainland is limited; we need to densify; the city is moving east (this year: Burnaby, specifically Brentwood, is the new Yaletown-inspired master-planned community); and boomers are controlling the market. What’s noteworthy, as always, are the tangents in the Rennie missive—and this year, like years past, there were many sideroads and alleyways en route to the end of his 62-minute speech, delivered Thursday at the Hyatt Regency Ballroom in downtown Vancouver.
The first side trip, predictably enough, was the Olympic Village—and some amount of crowing over the success Rennie and his company, Rennie Marketing Systems, had in marketing a project once seen as the City of Vancouver’s white elephant. Rennie continued to market the unsold condo units even after the Olympic Village went into receivership.
“There were predictions that there would be hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid debt. A few industry leaders and UDI members stood up and held our hand—and then there were a few, just a handful, that kept insisting on an autopsy while the patient was still breathing,” said Rennie. “Well, here we are and the debt is paid off and the city has $70 million. Of course, this doesn’t recover the entire land sale; however, the taxpayer is way better off than some of the possible outcomes.”
That touched off a broader discussion about the Vancouver brand, and Rennie’s irritation at those who denigrate it by saying negative things about what the city is doing to attract business. He highlighted the controversy surrounding HootSuite’s perceived sweetheart land deal from the City of Vancouver to keep its head office in town, and not move elsewhere as had been feared.
“There is some frivolous political positioning around the HootSuite lease. Perhaps any candidate should be doing anything that they can to keep the HootSuites of the world here, hiring 500-plus gen Ys, and doing anything they can to protect the brand of Vancouver,” said Rennie. “We all think that we can just throw out these sound bites and it’s all funny—but what you’re doing is hurting the brand of my city. I think it’s time that we started speaking up.”
Perhaps the most surprising digression was an attack on environmentalist David Suzuki, who in a 2013 interview with French newspaper L’Express claimed that he thought “Canada was full” and that our immigration policy—increasing population to support economic growth—was “disgusting.” Rennie, in response, said: “Fortunately, Mr. Suzuki, we all have friends whose lives are a better place because they moved here.”
Later, Rennie discussed a controversy surrounding the marketing of one of his projects out by UBC, and an all-Mandarin mailer than went out by accident to residents in West Point Grey: “It sparked racist responses and touched the nerves of ignorance—it brought out stereotypical reactions that fuel the David Suzukis of the world.”
Amidst all the fiery rhetoric was the usual smattering of numbers to surprise and delight: a third of homes in Greater Vancouver have more bedrooms in the home than people; 43 per cent of 25- to 34-year-olds in Vancouver are homeowners, while 26 per cent of Vancouverites under 25 years old own a home. Perhaps the most amazing statistic of all: Greater Vancouver’s over-55 demographic is sitting on $163.4 billion in clear-title housing assets.
“What will the impact be of this equity be on our marketplace?” asked Rennie, before noting that over 40 percent of Rennie’s first-time homebuyers are now getting their down payments from their parents. “This might just be the tip of the $163.4 billion iceberg.”
“The pattern that we should all be watching is the movement of this wealth by the living,” he concluded, “which may be more important than the transfer of wealth by the dead.”