Exile On Main Street: Will Lin On Rize


 Lin’s first Rize project was a Yaletown 11-suiter. Its million-dollar build budget wouldn’t keep the lights on in his 32nd-floor Bentall IV office today. Photos: Jenny Reed


Every May, as surely as farmers markets start to appear, Bob Rennie addresses the Urban Development Institute. His speech, a mix of asides, jokes, and commissioned research, is warmly met by the 1,200 in attendance.

This spring, he reiterated that the gap between our lower income-67 percent of British Columbians earn less than $50,000 a year-and our pricey real estate is bridgeable: baby boomers will increasingly downsize, re-investing their $88 billion of equity in homes for kids and grandkids. For Will Lin, a light bulb went off. The CEO of Rize Alliance, 47, says he sees 85 percent of young buyers come in with the income to support mortgages but not the cash. Meanwhile, the older demographic “loves real estate, so why not channel that into the people who want to invest?”

It’s to help them, he says, but also “for selfish reasons: with this product people who wouldn’t otherwise buy will be able to-hopefully from us!” It’s still only a theory, he stresses, not even branded, but the question haunts him, as it does many builders: “How do we let people buy real estate even if they can’t afford it?”First, though, he’s got Mount Pleasant to placate.

Rize has been much in the news thanks to community opposition-“Wait, define ‘community’ ”-to the project, most controversial for its main tower’s 22 floors. The Residents Association of Mount Pleasant agrees the area needs density (called for in the city’s neighbourhood community plan) but doesn’t believe the complex matches the area’s character or scale. “In their view,” Lin rebuts, “the whole Mount Pleasant-the whole city-should be four-storey walkups.

Unfortunately, we’re not going to achieve the density we need that way.” In fact, the district is accommodating midrise developments; this one, significantly taller and, given the location, more visible, is a tough sell. So in July Rize, with Acton Ostry Architects, revised its submission, adding parking, removing a floor of retail (“in response to the city’s concern that it’s too monolithic from the street”), and lowering two buildings facing Broadway by pushing the height back to East 10th. The tower stayed. The 336-unit project awaits city permits and approval by the Urban Design Panel this month; Lin isn’t worried. “Every one of our projects is architecturally unique.

These should be pieces of art. People are going to have to drive by and look at them no matter what for the next 100 years.” Unlike, he says, the bulk of our cookie-cutter stock. “As an insider, I think these buildings are built based on spreadsheets, on numbers. There’s no human story, no human emotion.”

Lin bought Rize’s Kingsway-at-Broadway block, including the former Jantzen swimwear factory, for about $18 million. That was in 2005, before the recession raised costs so high that many small developers were barred from entering the industry. The million-dollar construction bill on his first building, Yaletown’s first residential rebuild in 1993, “would barely pay for the staff here on a monthly basis.” Between banks and community groups, he’s too busy mollifying to move ahead on the project of condos pairing rich uncles and poor nieces. Yet he’s sanguine. “The pace of change is perfect. That’s the way the energy of the universe here in Vancouver flows, and we have to play along.”