Court battle rages over Vancouver Plaza of Nations site - The Orca
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Court battle rages over Vancouver Plaza of Nations site

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Despite the legal battles, the site could still see a major transformation, says Russell Hixson.

The B.C. Court of Appeal has squashed efforts by Concord Pacific to appeal a judgment in a longtime land development dispute over downtown Vancouver’s Plaza of Nations lands.

Concord Pacific, one of the largest developers of residential property in the country, took Singaporean financier Hong Leong Oei to court over contract disputes regarding the development of the site.

Oei owns Hong Kong Expo Holdings Ltd., which owns 100 per cent of the shares in Canada Metropolitan Properties Corp. (CMPC) as its only asset. CMPC, in turn, holds title to the 13-acre plaza as its only major asset. As a result, HK Expo indirectly owns or controls the Plaza Lands.

According to court documents, Oei purchased the property from Concord in 1989 for $40 million as a long‑term investment. In the spring of 2015, Oei began the process of rezoning the Plaza Lands, thereby attracting the interest of several large Vancouver‑based developers, including Concord. At this time, the Plaza Lands had an assessed value of approximately $140 million.

That year Concord and HK Expo began discussions about how to work together to develop the Plaza Lands. The result was a two‑page heads of agreement — an initial, narrow agreement — that addressed the purchase by Concord, or an affiliate, of a 50 per cent interest of HK Expo, as well as the intended joint development of the Plaza Lands by the parties.

The proposed project was a multi‑year, billion‑dollar development that included market and social housing, commercial development and community projects. The heads of agreement outlined that Concord would provide the development, construction and marketing services for the project. The courts stated the agreement, at a minimum, contemplated the indirect sale of the Plaza Lands and the subsequent development of the Plaza Lands into a high‑density, mixed‑use development.

But the deal went south.

According to court records, the parties had several disagreements and “relations between them soured.”

Ultimately Oei’s team informed Concord Pacific CEO Terry Hui the agreement had been terminated because of an alleged breach of contract by Concord.

When Concord went to court to enforce the agreement in 2019, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Peter Voith dismissed its claim, ordering it to pay Oei millions in costs due to the “egregious dishonesty” of one its witnesses.

This month, that decision was held up on appeal when two of three judges on a B.C. Court of Appeal Panel agreed with Voith’s ruling.

Despite the legal battles, the site could still see a major transformation. CMPC has submitted a proposal to the city to redevelop the plaza with help from local architect James Cheng.

CMPC stated in a press release that Oei’s vision for his Plaza of Nations land is a waterfront neighbourhood of terraced buildings of up to 30 storeys including a community centre, a child care facility, and a gradual amphitheatre for cultural and performing art events.

It will also have 380 units of social housing, a seawall and public spaces suitable for events and festivals, retail stores, restaurants, cafes and breweries, with a pedestrian bridge linking the area to the neighbouring Rogers Arena and BC Place Stadium.

The development project, called Expo Gardens, is in the final stages of permitting at Vancouver City Hall and Oei expects work to begin this year.

Concord Pacific did not respond to requests for comment.

The $5 million in special costs that were awarded to Oei by Voith are being appealed by Concord. Oei said if he is able to collect the funds he will give them to health care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Russell Hixson is the staff writer for the Journal of Commerce where he covers the construction industry.  Before that, he spent years in the U.S. as an investigative crime reporter. He lives in East Vancouver. Follow him on Twitter: @RussellReports.
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