Chinese investors snag Vancouver’s biggest real estate prize: All four Bentall Centre towers



Anbang Insurance Group Co. Ltd., a Beijing-based company with a reported US$114 billion in assets, is buying what amounts to a 66 per cent stake in Bentall I, II, III and IV — a sprawling commercial 1.5-million-square-foot office complex, with some retail, in the heart of Vancouver.

A Vancouver-registered company called Maple Tree Financial Management that appears to be associated with a Chinese state-owned insurance giant is buying a controlling interest in all four towers of the Bentall Centre.

Sources confirmed to Postmedia that China’s Anbang Insurance Group Co. Ltd., a Beijing-based company with a reported $114 billion US in assets, is buying what amounts to a 66-per-cent stake in Bentall I, II, III and IV — a sprawling commercial 1.5-million-square-foot office complex with some retail shops in the heart of downtown Vancouver.

In October, there were reports that Ivanhoé Cambridge Inc., a subsidiary of Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, was selling its stake in the four towers. The price paid by Anbang values the entire complex at more than $1 billion, according to sources. The deal has not yet closed, but chatter about it is rife in the market.

Tenants in the Bentall buildings have been receiving “estoppel” certificates. These are used for due diligence ahead of a firm sale and are filed by tenants to verify lease terms ahead of a landlord’s proposed transaction with another party.

The exact relationship between Anbang and Maple Tree Financial Management is unknown. Maple Tree was incorporated in June 2015 and has been based on the 25th floor of 200 Granville St. in downtown Vancouver for eight months. The company’s two directors list local residential addresses, one in Surrey and the other in Coquitlam.

A sign beside the company’s office door reads Maple Tree Financial Management and, inside, above the reception desk is a sign with Anbang’s red-and-white logo and a sign reading Anbang Insurance Group in English and Chinese characters. An employee declined to comment.

If the deal closes, it would mark one of the first moves by a major state-owned Chinese company into the Vancouver commercial real estate market. Industry sources speculated that Anbang may have taken positions in other recent major Vancouver deals.

Anbang has been been looking for more opportunities in Canada after paying $110 million last year for a land lease of the HSBC Building at 70 York St. in Toronto. The Chinese company bought the land lease, which gives it ownership of the building for a set period of time, from Brookfield Office Properties in what was considered one of the highest recent valuations for a building in Toronto.

Anbang’s biggest North American splash was probably in 2014 when it bought the famed Waldorf Astoria in New York City for $1.9 billion US. 

Bentall Centre could be its largest foray into Canada — as it takes over the Ivanhoé stake. Each tower has a slightly different ownership structure, but Great West Life Assurance effectively controls 34 per cent of the four buildings combined.

The deal continues to show the appetite of Chinese investors for the Canadian market, especially in Vancouver where concerns continue to rage about Asian buyers moving into the city’s residential market.

Commercial property is proving to be just as desirable to institutional investors. 

Interest in Vancouver office space has not been confined to just Asian investors. Attracted by the struggling loonie, European investors have also been eyeing the market. German multi-billionaire Klaus-Michael Kuehne is said to to have paid $400 million for Royal Centre, a 36-storey building at 1055 West Georgia St., last month.

Ross Moore, an independent real estate consultant, said Chinese investor interest is probably at an all-time high. “We’ve seen it on the residential side, but now it’s on the commercial side,” he said.

Moore said he can’t recall a bigger deal in Vancouver commercial real estate history.

“It’s an absolute jewel of a property,” said Moore about the buildings, which are relatively dated (the newest was built in 1981). “It’s an older property, but irreplaceable. It’s hard to beat the location. You are sitting on top of SkyTrain, and tenants just love it. It always leases up. I’ve never seen significant vacancy. They are always full.”

The most recent B.C. Assessment values the towers at more than $891 million. At the estimated sale price of $1 billion for 66 per cent of the the buildings, the value hits almost $1,000 per square foot.

To compare, in 2009, when German investment firm Deka Immobilien Investment GmbH bought the newer Bentall 5 building from a Quebec pension fund, it paid $297 million. Three years later, Deka sold it for $400 million to several Canadian pension funds whose investments are managed by Bentall Kennedy, a firm once related to the Bentall family, which built the original four buildings.

That sale in 2012 equated to about $686 per square foot, according to real estate reports.



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