Housing experts say progress on Nanaimo’s new conference centre hotel has put the city on the cusp of a real estate revolution.Nanaimo city council recently approved the development permit for a $50-million, 21-storey hotel, featuring retail space, restaurants and walkways.
The build – expected to attract 70,000 tourists each year – is considered to be a potential game changer for the Harbour City, not only boosting sales downtown, but providing long-awaited upscale rooms for conference centre delegates. It’s also expected to have ripple effects on Nanaimo’s real estate market. Housing experts say Nanaimo is well-positioned for growth in any market, with its centralized location, affordable home prices and natural beauty.
But introduce tens of thousands of prospective and possibly affluent Chinese home buyers to the city each year and Nanaimo is bound to see a spike in commercial and leisure real estate sales, higher home prices and new development. There is also an expectation the new build will trigger interest among retailers and developers to buy up commercial property downtown and ramp up schedules for projects currently on hold, including a new casino building and four-storey multi-family housing project at Port Place.
Real estate agents, reportedly excited about the opportunities, have already started to investigate office space close to the hotel. Other sellers plan to adjust property descriptions to appeal to the Asian market and contact hotel owner SSS Manhao to offer free tour services. “They are already coming and a lot of properties, especially high-end properties, are being sold to Chinese buyers … but when [there are] 70,000 ... think about it – that’s basically the population of Nanaimo more or less,” said Victor Kiritchenko, a real estate agent with Re/Max Nanaimo. “It will bring your market up enormously.” Kiritchenko believes the hotel is the next stage in the development of the city, likely doing for us what Expo ’86 did for Vancouver – spread the word about Nanaimo and prompt population growth.
New visitors brought in by the hotel owners are effectively ambassadors who will pass on information about their experience to prospective immigrants, he said, adding the increased market demand could lead to higher home prices and new development. “[This hotel] is opening the gate to a huge, huge, huge market, which is China,” Kiritchenko said. “It’s like 70,000 agents will come every year.”
Sophia Chen, a real estate agent with Coast Realty Group in North Nanaimo and former tour guide, is excited to see the project break ground and agrees there could be a real estate upsurge. The Harbour City will be attractive for Chinese families because of affordable house prices, a safe environment, clean water and air, and easy access to the oceanfront, she said. And it’s her experience that if Chinese home buyers purchase property and still have money to spend, they buy commercial real estate knowing it’s not always easy to make the transition into the Canadian job market. She will be calling SSS Manhao and talking about volunteering as a tour guide, so she can sell people on the city.
The buzz around the hotel – and attempt to get in on the ground floor – is no surprise to Sasha Angus, CEO of the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation, who has been fielding calls from realtors interested in commercial space close to the hotel. He said the upscale hotel and its tourists will be a brand-new stimulus from a retail perspective and add to the uptick in purchases from the Asian market already happening in the region.
A potential fast ferry could add to the allure of Nanaimo real estate, he said, adding that investors are now in the final stages of determining finances for the project. It could be running within five or six months of the financial close. “Once we have that new service in place it will be a wonderful opportunity for Chinese visitors and a host of different folks to come over in a 68-minute crossing ... and look at real estate prices,” he said.
It would also make Nanaimo a good pick for people working in Vancouver, who can benefit from lower home prices in the Harbour City and the avoidance of white-knuckle traffic. “[They could] hop on the ferry, have a latte and be in downtown Vancouver in just over an hour,” Angus said. “It’s an attractive option.”