Sunday, June 20, 2021

Father's Day

While I am looking forward to spending Father's Day with Claire and Georgia and their partners and children (well, actually just Harriet will be with us. The other is still 'on the way') I am also thinking about my dad Sam Geller. I wrote about him here and those who knew him can understand why I would still think of him so fondly on Father's Day.

My dad and I shared many things in common-an appreciation of good humour, the ideas of Edward de Bono, Stoic philosophy, and nice ties immediately come to mind. But there were also many differences. He wasn't very interested or concerned about material possessions. He didn't regularly check his investment accounts or care too much about the price of real estate. 

He also tended to see the positive in everything and everyone, rather than be as critical as I often am. As a result, I like to think that my sister Estelle Paget and I benefitted greatly from the years spent with my dad. I just hope my kids will feel the same way long after I am gone. Somehow, I think they will. 

Although they will be relieved not to have to hear the same old jokes and stories over and over again. Happy Father's Day to all those who were fortunate enough to have a good father, and those who didn't, but are trying to be good fathers to their kids.


More than a sports story. Canadian shares lead in US Open Golf Tournament

Normally I am playing golf on the weekend. But this weekend (for personal reasons I need not go into) I am watching the US Open Tournament on TV, and am glad I am. Yesterday, a couple of nobodies shared the lead. Russel Henley of US and UK golfer Richard Bland. For a while, both played well and it was exciting to watch these 'journeymen' achieving a level of fame and attention normally reserved for Rory McIlroy and Bryson DeChambeau. At the end of the day, Henley managed to stay on top. Sadly, Richard Bland didn't. 

However, Canadian golfer Mackenzie Hughes has now joined Henley and South African Louis Oosthuizen at the top of the leaderboard. Win or lose, and the odds are he will lose given all the other more experienced players only a few strokes behind, this is a major accomplishment for Hughes. It is also a matter of great pride for Canadian golfers. I therefore expected this to be a news item on this morning's CBC news. But instead we learned about an accomplished swimmer.

I don't want to take anything away from a swimmer, but hopefully CBC will realize this is more than a sports story and Mackenzie Hughes will be on the national news before his 12:55 pm start. Good luck Mackenzie, (and you do need luck in golf). Sally and I will be cheering you on this father's day.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Staycation #3 City of North Vancouver-Seaside Hotel

If you haven't been to the City of North Vancouver waterfront for a while, you should head on over. There have been some remarkable changes in recent years as the 2014 waterfront master plan is being realized. Much of the credit must go to former Mayor Darrell Mussato, former planners Richard White, Gary Penway, Emilie Adin, and no doubt many others. (Gary Penway tells me that Heather Reinhold is one of the people who also deserves credit and recognition.)

While West Vancouver awaits its first new waterfront hotel, the City of North Vancouver has two relatively new hotels on the central waterfront at the foot of Lonsdale Avenue. While some of you are no doubt familiar with the Pinnacle Hotel at the Pier, I suspect you have never heard of, or most certainly haven't stayed at Seaside, the North Shore's newest 71 room boutique hotel designed by Oregon's ZGF architects & Dialog, which opened in October 2019, just in time for a pandemic.

It was developed by Gary Mathieson , President of Quay Property Management Inc who for the past 27 years has owned and managed the Lonsdale Quay Public Market and the Lonsdale Quay Hotel which I venture to guess is a property you don't often think about. It is managed by The Executive Group, a Vancouver-based hotel branding, management, and development company. (You may recall they are also associated with the property we stayed at for Staycation #2)

Once the Wallace Shipyards, the area has been redeveloped with new waterfront walks, shops, restaurants, the Polygon Gallery, and other public spaces including some great water features. 

On a weekend afternoon, it is absolutely delightful, and other than Granville Island, (and perhaps the Olympic Village) there really isn't anything quite like it in Vancouver. Indeed, while many of us are proud of Vancouver's continuous and beautiful waterfront walkway and bikeway system, when you think about it, and compare it with Singapore or many other Asian or European waterfronts, it really is quite sterile. I mean, while there are a couple of restaurants in Coal Harbour and around False Creek, it's hard to find the level of activity found along most other waterfronts. (eg. How many ice cream vendors are there? other pop-up retailers?)

The North Vancouver central waterfront is a great place to visit, or preferably spend a night or two. For one thing, you can be there in 15 minutes from downtown Vancouver since it is adjacent to the SeaBus terminal. You don't need to take your car, and you probably shouldn't since it costs $32 to park overnight! (Although if you want, you can drop off your luggage and park further away and walk.)

There are many nearby restaurants for breakfast, lunch and dinner, not to mention Happy Hour. I must mention Happy Hour since from Wednesday to Sunday, the Seaside Hotel offers $1 shucked oysters ($2 for premium Kusshi) an excellent spicy tuna on fried seaweed and other creative appetizers, along with very reasonably priced (and surprisingly good) wines. 

For dinner we couldn't decide between the hotel restaurants, one of the restaurants in Lonsdale Quay, the very attractive Pier 7, or a restaurant along Lonsdale. We chose the latter and ate at Fishworks Seafood restaurant I first went there years ago for lunch with Emilie Adin, the City's former Director of Community Services, (to make amends for criticizing aspects of the City's housing policy including excessive minimum suite sizes!) I remembered it to be very good then, and it is still very good. 

I couldn't decide between the bouillabaisse or paella, and chose the latter. It was so good, I will head back soon for some of the other dishes. Prices are very reasonable for the quality.

Unfortunately the Seaside restaurant was not open for breakfast but it didn't matter. There is a beautiful Artigiano's overlooking the waterfront, but we went over to the Pinnacle Hotel for eggs benedict and an omelet. While the restaurant was almost empty, the food was very good, as was the service. (After all, for a while we were the only ones there!)

While I could go on about all the things I discovered, I will conclude with just a few thoughts. It has been many years since I visited the Lonsdale Quay Public Market. If I recall correctly, it was developed by my old friend John Evans while working with Intrawest and opened in 1986.  I expected it to look tired, but was completely wrong. It has been substantially renovated since I was last there, and I found many of the shops most delightful. For those of you who miss Dunbar's Cheshire Cheese's steak and kidney pie, there is still a Cheshire Cheese there serving a steak and kidney pie!

I must also comment on the Seaside Hotel. While I think the registration lobby needs to be reconsidered, (since there really isn't a registration lobby, just an area I assumed to be a small shop), the hotel is very, very well done. 

The interior design is most unusual, but attractive. While I often despise hotel carpets (somewhere out there is someone who designs all the world's awful hotel carpets and should be stopped), these carpets are interesting and good. Natural wood is used as a feature along the hallways and within the rooms, in addition to some creative wall coverings. I liked the overall look very much.

Sally found many of the features in our room to be reminiscent of many high-end European boutique hotels. While compact, especially compared to the suites we have been staying in, it was beautifully appointed with sheer and black-out blinds operated by a switch. (It took me a few minutes to find the switches; they're by the front door) and lots of electronic gear including a desk top tablet, plug-ins, bedside light switches, even a useful night reading light (which I will now install at home). My only complaints were the large sliding door on the bathroom that was hard to keep closed, the very fashionable desk chair that wasn't as comfortable as a more conventional and adjustable desk chair (but it looked great!) and a thermostat that I couldn't figure out how to use. I could have phoned the front desk, or looked for instructions, but didn't.

Because there are so few tourists coming to Vancouver, the hotel rates in most Vancouver area hotels are an unbelievable deal at the moment. (Just check out rates at The Exchange and other top quality hotels) The standard room rate at Seaside for Sunday night was only $149 plus taxes and I felt guilty paying so little. 

So to conclude, Covid-19 will be with us for a while. The Americans are not coming, at least not yet. So pack an overnight bag, take transit down to the SeaBus and go and stay for a night, or two. If available, the corner rooms with two windows are very good, and there's a suite that I didn't see but is probably wonderful. I recommend a water view room if available, although as an architect, (who lives on the water) I sometimes prefer a city view so I can study the surrounding buildings!

If you don't want to do this, at least head over for a tour of the award-winning Polygon Gallery and Happy Hour at Seaside, or one of the other nearby restaurants. I can guarantee you'll thank me for the suggestion. And congratulations to all who have been involved with the transformation of the North Vancouver City waterfront. It's very well done. A perfect spot for a Staycation!

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Staycation #2-Squamish. Yes Squamish!

In 1989 I developed an apartment building at 5th and Highbury in Point Grey with Joe and Lorne Segal's Kingswood Properties as a partner. The project was quite successful and when I received my share of the proceeds, I set off for Squamish with Sally to buy a piece of property. 

I wanted to invest in Squamish since I had grown up in Toronto and observed how land in communities an hour or so away from the city centre generally increased in value more than land within the city.  I also thought Squamish was a community with great potential. It had a beautiful setting-its major downside was the odour from the pulp mill. 

However, Steveston, where I spent 2 years rezoning BC Packers waterfront lands, also 'suffered' from the odour from the fish plants, and yet it was becoming a very successful community. As Bruce Buchanan, the president of BC Packers often said, that was the smell of money. (Ironically, Steveston no longer smells like fish residuals and Squamish no longer smells like a pulp mill, since both industries have closed down.)

Unfortunately, we didn't find anything that we wanted to buy in Squamish and put the money into something else, and eventually into apartments at Bayshore. But I have always regretted the decision not to buy property in Squamish and often urged others to invest there, and more recently, move there. 

Another Squamish regret: In 2008, after leaving SFU's UniverCity and travelling around the world for 9 months, I was invited to chat with local politicians about a potential involvement with the Squamish Oceanfront Development Corporation. It was overseeing a 103 acre downtown waterfront planned community. In 2006, Qualex-Landmark, a very good Vancouver developer had been selected to develop the property, but at the last minute, the Council voted 4-3 to change the terms of the deal. The developer walked and it took another 7 years to select another developer. While I decided not to get involved, I have often regretted that decision too!

However, last year I was invited to become involved with the planning and zoning approval for the redevelopment of the August Jack Motor Inn property. Named after a popular Indian chief, the motel occupies a strategic location at Cleveland and Main Streets, surrounded by parks and close to the municipal hall and library. To study some of the other downtown projects, and gain a better appreciation of the town, I convinced Sally that Squamish should be the venue for our second Staycation. While I thought about staying at the August Jack, we ended up at the Executive Suites Hotel and Resort which is in Garibaldi Highlands, about 10 minutes from the downtown.

While it is a bit of an overstatement to call it a resort, it did have a small outdoor pool and generously sized fully equipped suites. Unfortunately, the restaurant was not open for breakfast but there were other places to eat nearby. Other accommodation choices include the Sandman Hotel (where a continental breakfast is included in the room rate) and the highly regarded Squamish Highlands Bed and Breakfast. 

The next question was where to eat. While I have often eaten at the Howe Sound Brew Pub, I was surprised to discover there are now quite a few choices. Not knowing which to choose I asked Kareem Negm, the IBI architect with whom I am working to make some recommendations. We ended up having lunch at one, and dinner at the other. Both were very good recommendations.

So what do you have for lunch in Squamish? Sally had the hippy burger (yes, there's no meat.) I had a smoked beef brisket platter. Sitting outside on a deck, overlooking the Saturday farmers' market, it was most enjoyable.

However, dinner at The Salted Vine was outstanding. For those of you who think of Squamish as big trucks and lumberjack shirts (Ok, so the staff at Copper Coil did wear lumberjack shirts!) you'll be pleasantly surprised, no shocked, by the menu choices at Salted Vine. First of all, there's a very extensive pre-dinner cocktail list. (As the manager/owner proudly told us, it is one of the few places that offers much more than a bloody Caesar.) Instead of the seafood platter ordered at the next table, (fresh oysters, chilled prawns, tuna tataki, steelhead tartar) I started with the seared duck liver which reminded me of a similar dish I used to enjoy at Il Giardino. The choice of mains included Bucatini (it's ok, I had to look it up too), Ling Cod, Confit Duck Leg, dry-age beef burger and various steaks. 

The wine list was most impressive with about 50 red wines to choose from. But what was even more impressive was the 'After Dinner Cocktails' menu which offered a variety of cognacs + brandies, dessert wine, ports, and digestifs. Few restaurants in Vancouver could match this! Unfortunately, since I wasn't staying at the August Jack and had to drive back, I had to forgo the Green Tree Absinthe from the Czech Republic.

For those of you who have only driven by Squamish or stopped at a highway restaurant to use the toilet, there is a lot of interesting development going on. Ironically, two major developments are being undertaken by Lorne Segal and Kingswood Properties. Sea & Sky (a joint-venture with Blue Sky Properties) and Redbridge a major planned community, which has been in the works for years, is about to get underway.

There are also a number of new projects downtown, generally 6-storeys in scale, with retail at grade and parking, yes parking, on the second level! 

However, one completed neighbourhood that really impressed us was Eaglewind, a townhouse neighbourhood developed by Solterra and designed by Merrick, Ciccozzi, and presumably others. It had a wonderful sense of community.(Solterra has also developed a very attractive Business Park just north of the downtown.)

To see another side of Squamish you just need to drive up to Quest University. While it is struggling financially, it is surrounded by some very impressive new neighbourhoods with prices rivalling what you pay in many parts of Vancouver. Yes Vancouver.

It turned out that many of my favourite projects around Squamish were designed by AKA Architects, a local firm. These included Sirocco along the waterfront and Quest University Student residences. AKA also designed The Main, next door to the August Jack, and Junction Park, a major project for Solterra kitty-corner to the August Jack that is about to get underway. 

While a few friends initially scoffed at the idea of a staycation in Squamish, once I showed them the menus from Salted Vine, they weren't so condescending. Indeed, I can highly recommend Squamish as a great place for a short getaway. While we didn't ride the Sea-to-Sky Gondola, it is now operational, and if you like hiking and kayaking, there is much to do. After all, the town's tagline is HARDWIRED FOR ADVENTURE. While I'll leave aerial kiteboarding and mountain biking to my August Jack client, I'll definitely be back for more sautéed duck liver and a glass of Absinthe.  

Friday, June 11, 2021

Staycation #1 The Sunshine Coast May 30-June 2, 2021

The thing I have missed the most during the pandemic, other than seeing friends and family, has been travel. As a result, as soon as Dr. Bonnie relaxed the essential travel requirements as long as we stayed within our own health region, I booked a holiday on the Sunshine Coast because, for some weird reason, it is in the same health region. 

Since working on a planned new resort at Furry Creek, I have been researching resorts around the province. One that is relatively close, and which seemed very appealing from its photos was  Painted Boat-Resort Spa and Marina.  So we booked in for two nights. 

Located at Madeira Bay near Pender Harbour, the development comprises 31 stacked townhouses which are marketed as 'villas'. While they are not villas, they are well-designed, very spacious units with nearby covered parking and good views of the waterfront. The development was originally built by a group of investors from Calgary in 2007 and I gather from stories online it was not a good investment for those who purchased units. Three years ago, Frank O'Brien, editor of Business in Vancouver, wrote the following about the resort:

Painted Boat Resort, Spa and Marina is an award-winning waterfront resort in Pender Harbour on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast. Featuring  quintessential West Coast architecture, the popular resort provides 31 spacious two-bedroom villas, complemented by first-class amenities that include a restaurant, spa, marina and banquet facilities. Originally developed in 2007 for quarter-share ownership in the 31 individual villas, Painted Boat is the top-rated resort on the Sunshine Coast. Colliers International has listed the majority of the resort, which includes 68 of the 124 quarter-shares, the spa, the restaurant and a marina with more than 50 slips. $10 million.

While it may not have been a good place to invest, it was a very good place to stay. It has a surprisingly exceptional restaurant, with a good menu. Unfortunately it was only open on the Sunday night due to Covid, but we enjoyed an excellent meal. 

One of the many advantages of the resort is its walking distance proximity to nearby shops and cafes. We had an excellent lunch of freshly caught spot prawns and fish and chips at Budabing, a local 'food truck' (which is really a mobile home) which is best known for its hamburgers. 

One suggestion for the resort is to fix up the steps leading to some of the units. As we say in the real estate and hospitality business, first impressions can be lasting impressions. For what's being charged, and given the quality of the rest of the resort, this should be attended to.

On the second night we had dinner at the Grasshopper Pub at the Pender Harbour Hotel. A lovely setting. Good service, but we thought the food was terrible. Perhaps the Chicken Pot Pie and Mussels are good, since both were sold out. But if you order the meat pizza, if it's like mine you'll be disappointed. Most of the meats that were supposed to be included were missing! 

While we were there we toured around three other resorts. West Coast Wilderness Lodge looks like a good place to stay. While we didn't see the units, we did see the restaurant which looked most enticing. I gather it's a popular venue for destination weddings. We also stopped off at Ruby Lake Resort which is much more rustic. But we have heard good reports about the restaurant.

The other most interesting resort is Rockwater Secret Cove Resort  If you book, study the accommodation carefully since it varies considerably. It offers glamorous Tenthouse Suites which you access via a long, wooden walkway; modern Oceanview Lodge Rooms and Rustic Cabins. While we didn't check out all the accommodation, the Tenthouse Cabins are the place to stay if you want to splurge a bit for a night. 

The Sunshine Coast has much to offer. While Sechelt is a bit disappointing, there is a small but interesting cidery where we enjoyed a tasting of 6 different ciders.

Gibsons is a terrific community with many delightful places to eat and shop. We have previously stayed at Bonniebrook Lodge and can recommend staying there and eating at Chasters Restaurant. Now that we can see some light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, it is time for all of us to start travelling again. Check out the Sunshine Coast if you haven't been there for a while (especially if you're golfers. There are some good local courses.) If you need someone to play with, phone my friends Jim and Doria Moodie. They summer in Halfmoon Bay and know the local courses very well.