Industrial and Commercial Bank of China announces plan to vacate North Vancouver headquarters within 3-5 years

What will happen to the master piece of Lower Lonsdale real estate—currently valued at more than $103 million—remains a major question.

After occupying one of North Vancouver’s most iconic waterfront locations for more than 40 years, ICBC has announced plans to effectively “leave the building” in the next three to five years.

The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia told about 1,500 head office employees Thursday (September 22) that Crown plans to vacate its six-story, 300,000-square-foot office sometime in the next three to five years. This move is not expected until 2025 at the earliest.

Adam Grossman, a company spokesman, said ICBC doesn’t know where its head office will move yet. Occupying several floors of a commercial office tower in a location like Burnaby is one possibility, he said.

Regardless of where it ends up, the company will be working to scale back digs and transition to a model of smaller office centers across the lower mainland, he said.

Grossman said the main reason for the decision was that with most employees working from home about half the time, “a huge main office building just doesn’t make sense anymore.”

He said the ICBC was already moving toward more flexible working arrangements when the pandemic accelerated that trend.

Less than half of the office building is occupied

These days, he said, large office space is occupied only 20 to 40 percent of the time.

He added that when they come into the office, 70 percent of head office employees move from the North Shore.

He said vacating the current office makes sense for most employees — a move that has been repeated by many major companies since the COVID-19 virus has brought about changes in workplace culture.

ICBC’s decision to move will be a significant change for a key area in the lower Lonsdale neighborhood of North Vancouver.

The main unanswered question so far is what will happen to the major piece of real estate once ICBC leaves.

The main question about what will happen to the landing in the future

So far, Grossman said, “There are no firm plans or commitments about the future of this main office building.” “Obviously it is a major real estate space. That will be years later.”

Five years ago, a leaked report prepared by the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China at the direction of the former Liberal government showed that Crown had developed a business study for the transfer and sale of the property at 151 West Esplanade, which had been in use since 1980.

Among the challenges cited in the report, “Significant expenditures for maintenance and upgrades will be required over the next 10-20 years. These expenditures are estimated at $184 million, with the majority of costs required during the first 10 years of this period,” the study said. Feasibility, which the news got at the time.

Among the required improvements, according to the report: $36 million for seismic upgrades, $27 million for deferred maintenance, $23 million to repair building casings, and $44 million for improvements.

It doesn’t make sense to spend that kind of money on a building that is rarely more than half occupied, Grossman said.

Assets estimated at more than $103 million

In 2016, when the transfer and sale feasibility study was written, the property was valued at $79.8 million.

Today, the ICBC property is valued at $103.8 million—roughly all of that in land value.

Bowen Ma, an MLA in North Vancouver-Lonsdale, said when she first heard about the announcement this week, “I have to admit my reaction was surprising and anxious.”

In particular, Ma said she was concerned about what the exodus of workers might mean for local businesses.

But given the fact that most of these people often work from home anyway, Ma said she now views the change as an “exciting opportunity” to revitalize a key area.

With discussion of both the rapid transit to the North Shore in the future, and the need for housing, she added, land could play a key role in those discussions.

“We have talked a lot about transit-oriented development,” she said, adding that the government had recently passed legislation allowing the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure to purchase and hold land for purposes other than direct transportation.

“So building housing and building whole communities, there’s a lot of opportunity out there.”

Ma added personally that she would like the land to remain public rather than sold to private development interests.

Linda Buchanan, mayor of North Vancouver, said in a statement that she was surprised to learn of the plan to close ICBC’s main office.

“While I am sad to see such a large number of public sector employers leave, this represents an important opportunity for our community,” she said. Buchanan said the city is eager to engage with the county about future plans.

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