Vancouver Sun: Robert Fung says his Salient Group ‘takes the life-cycle clock back to zero.’

October 4th, 2007
Beside the renovated 1912 Lumberman's Building, Robert Fung says his Salient Group 'takes the life-cycle clock back to zero.'

Beside the renovated 1912 Lumberman's Building, Robert Fung says his Salient Group 'takes the life-cycle clock back to zero.'

Robert Fung should have H as a middle initial. It would stand for “heritage,” because that has characterized the Salient development firm’s president since he left Concord Pacific to found it in 2001.

His first acquisition was the now-121-year-old Alhambra on Gastown’s Maple Tree Square where Salient has its offices. When city workers resume their duties, Fung should be able to start renovating the 26,000-square-foot structure into “what will still be one of the city’s oldest but also most modern buildings.” 

Ditto the nearby 50,000-square-foot Flack Block, where $15 million, including hard costs of $12 million, will add a fifth floor and totally renovate a “substantially vacant” building that housed “a pawnshop, booze cans and grow-ops” when Fung paid $2.5 million for it in 2005. 

“It was technically an office block, but the city had a broad definition,” Fung said, smiling. 

He was standing across Richards Street from the Lumbermen’s Building, which he bought vacant for $4 million in 2005. Closer to the Central Business District and in better physical condition than most of Salient’s Gastown centred projects, the building still broadly fits Fung’s aim of “breathing new life into vacant, desolate buildings, and bringing in a new population that appreciates them.”

He means folk who’ll occupy 29 live-work condos in the 1907 Paris Block at Hastings-off-Carrall Street. Demolition began this week for an 18-unit annex where similar units will fetch $600 per square foot. Sensitive to gentrification charges from Downtown Eastside residents, he said Salient projects will “round out the community… [and] the street feels more comfortable.”

Referring to such renovations as “taking the life-cycle clock back to zero,” Fung said the 1912-built Lumbermen’s Building is “bang-on our business plan of taking some of our best heritage inventory and turning it into fully modernized character space.”

That saw the Taxi advertising agency take two floors to service such clients as Telus, Mini automobiles and Viagra, of which the latter certainly reflects Fung’s new-life-for-old ethos. Stage 3 Media took the basement and two above-ground floors, leaving four for other corporate hipsters to lease. 

Even so, such custom activity could not occur until the long-flaccid downtown office market regained its vigour. Today, less than a dozen such buildings are available, Fung said, and he is targeting half of them.

Salient’s $15-million development of Beatty Street’s 1912-built Bowman Building saw 38-condo lofts sell in the $500-to-600-per-square-foot range. The project was nominated for an Urban Design Institute award Wednesday – too late for press deadlines.

Reaching further from Maple Tree Square, Fung said, “We’re not fixed on heritage.” Salient’s Varsity project on the old theatre site is a new structure that Fung said architect Tom Stansiszkis designed to “merge” between the adjacent ultra-modern Roar 1 development and traditional West 10th Avenue. And negotiations with the City of New Westminster should see the Trapp Building, which long housed an Army & Navy store, retain only its Columbia Street facade with a new, up-to-18-floor tower behind.


Download Full Article (PDF) – Vancouver Sun October 4, 2007