May 4, 2011
This week we headed west to find our Buzz Talk guest! Chris Vollan is Vice President, Development at Rize Alliance Properties. Rize is one of Vancouver’s most interesting and vibrant developers and is known for projects that, with lots of flair, add to – rather than draw upon – the vitality of their communities. Check out The Rolston and OnQue to see what we mean.
Chris told us about his new position with Rize, his time with a large developer in sunny California, and his favourite places to carve up the slopes.
BBH: Please tell us a little bit about the work Rize does in Vancouver.
CV: Rize has been building homes in Vancouver since 1991 and we have always taken a slightly unconventional route to urban development. Rize took on the first heritage density transfer downtown for the Vancouver Linen building (now Choices Market on Richards). We are currently restoring the Yale Hotel and its SRA’s, and experimenting with home types and adaptability (The Rolston and OnQue). We’re always pushing for something unique in the architecture of the buildings we take on. It was the portfolio that attracted me to Rize in the first place but it’s the perspective and positive attitude that have really engaged me here.
BBH: What challenges are you most eager to tackle in your new position?
CV: The challenges are those typical to most development firms (the approval process, community outreach, lender realities, market ups and downs, construction costs), plus the added Rize challenge of pushing the edge on architecture and ensuring we are adding to the communities in which we work.
We are also working in a communications environment that is changing rapidly with social media, very engaged and informed neighbourhoods, concerns over growth and affordability in a rapidly growing region, changes in technology and the understanding of all aspects of true environmental design and sustainability. One of the big challenges for me is communication and based on the push back and cynicism many neighbourhoods are expressing as Vancouver goes through another round of adolescent growing pains, it’s obvious that we as an industry, after 125 years of helping to build the city and province, haven’t done the best job of communicating the how and why of what we do.
BBH: What sparked your passion for building and what keeps you motivated on a day-to-day basis?
CV: I come from a family of builders (back to generations of shipbuilders in Norway) and grew up on construction sites. The smell of concrete and fresh cut wood is embedded in my DNA, as is the very simple satisfaction of seeing something scribbled on a piece of paper come into being. Buildings and cities are an extension of our culture – our first art form – and it is amazing to be a small part their evolution and growth. On a day-to-day basis, I remember that we are designing and building homes for people and businesses, and even though it’s sometimes several years down the road, eventually somebody will be jumping out of their skin with excitement to be getting the keys to their front door. That’s motivating!
BBH: In a city as desirable as Vancouver, where prices are high and space is limited, what are some of the biggest challenges that come along with developing new residential communities? How do you address these major challenges?
CV: It’s a key point that Vancouver is a highly desirable place to live, and the word is out. Unless we can accommodate growth intelligently, with appropriate density and design, competition will continue to drive home prices upward. We’re seeing this in our low density neighbourhoods close to the downtown core.
Vancouverites have a social agreement to, in general, respect the single family home neighbourhoods, versus ripping out block after block to replace with mid-rise development as was done in Europe centuries ago, so we need to find the areas that fit density, especially along our transit corridors and make it work. If peak oil is coming soon (or is already past, as some assert), we need to make our neighbourhoods dense, walkable, vital and liveable – and we need to take every opportunity to do this well.
BBH: We understand you worked with Intrawest in California. What did you take away from the experience working in American real estate that helps you manage Rize development today?
CV: I had an amazing experience working in California and Arizona and I’d say one of my major ingrained learning experiences is ‘purpose’. Intrawest was a big believer in the purpose, vision or story of a place which helped define the difference between a stacked up pile of wood and a home or community. Carry that into the urban market of Vancouver and I think it ties very well to the kind of work Rize strives for.
BBH: In your view is there a fundamental difference between the American and Canadian real estate markets?
CV: Our Canadian markets are, for the most part, alive and kicking. That’s certainly one significant fundamental difference.
BBH: We also hear you’re an avid snowboarder: Where, from your experience, is the world’s best boarding?
CV: My riding experience is so far, limited to western North America; the Okanagan; Whistler; Quebec and the Eastern Sierra (Mammoth/Tahoe) – none of which suck! I’m hoping to try something off the continent next season (Italy, maybe), so will have to get back to you on that one.
BBH: What do you wish you knew on your first day in the real estate industry that you know now?
CV: That grey hair would only make me ‘look’ smarter. . .
Our thanks to Chris for taking the time to chat!