British Columbia

Bentall Centre, Vancouver's largest office complex, selling for secret price

A commercial property at the heart of Vancouver's business district and political landscape is changing hands.

Key property returns to North American ownership after being sold to China's Anbang for $1.06B in 2016

The Bentall Centre's sale to China's Anbang Group in 2016 sparked criticism, especially after the Chinese government assumed control of Anbang's assets. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Vancouver's largest office complex is about to change hands in what may be the biggest real estate deal of 2019.

New York-based equity giant Blackstone Group and Los Angeles-based Hudson Pacific are buying the Bentall Centre from China's Anbang Insurance Groups for an undisclosed price.

The deal returns the property — long the home base for leading Canadian corporations and leaders — to North American-based owners, who have executives with Lower Mainland roots.

Anbang bought the four office towers and retail mall for $1.06 billion in 2016.

At the time, the deal — one of the priciest in B.C. history — sparked criticism when it was approved by Ottawa despite rules around foreign ownership of key Canadian assets.

Concern grew in 2018 when the Chinese government confiscated Anbang's assets after Wu Xiaohui, the founder of the Chinese insurance company, was sentenced to 18 years in prison after pleading guilty to fraudulently raising billions of dollars, according to state media sources.

At the time, Michael Byers, Canada research chair in global politics and international law at UBC, said the development meant the Chinese government was in control of one of the largest integrated office complexes in Canada, as well as the province's largest retirement home company, Retirement Concepts, which Anbang bought in 2017.

"Should we be concerned about that? Probably," Byers said in May 2018.

Nadeem Meghji, head of real estate Americas for Blackstone, grew up in West Vancouver, B.C. (Blackstone)

Executives from Metro Vancouver

A spokesperson for CBRE, a Canadian real estate company that's part of the latest transaction, says there were multiple offers from both Canadian and international groups.

If the current deal is cemented, Blackstone Group will take over 80 per cent of the property and Hudson Pacific will take over the remaining 20 per cent.

Hudson Pacific will manage and develop the property, according to the company's press release.

Hudson Pacific CEO Victor Coleman grew up in Vancouver and joined the company in 2006. (Hudson Pacific)

Nadeem Meghji, Blackstone's head of real estate for the Americas, grew up in West Vancouver. He said his company plans to invest in this property "for the long term."

Victor Coleman — chairman and CEO of Hudson Pacific — grew up in Vancouver.

In a statement he said: "We have always viewed Vancouver, with its proximity to Seattle, growing tech and media industries, high quality of life and favourable immigration policies as a natural expansion market for our office and studio portfolios.

"Bentall Centre is one of the city's pre-eminent office and retail properties and a landmark of downtown Vancouver."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Yvette Brend is a Vancouver journalist. Yvette.Brend@cbc.ca or on Twitter or Instagram @ybrend

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