VANCOUVER — The Chinese insurance company that grabbed a controlling stake in the four towers of the Bentall Centre, in one of the largest commercial deals in Vancouver history, is set for another major purchase.
Sources indicate that Anbang Insurance Group Co. Ltd., a Beijing-based company with a reported US$114 billion in assets, has a deal to buy what amounts to a 34 per cent stake in Bentall I, II, III and IV — a sprawling commercial 1.5-million-square-foot office complex, with some retail, in the heart of Vancouver.
The Financial Post first reported in February that Anbang had purchased a 66 per cent stake in the four towers from Ivanhoé Cambridge Inc., a subsidiary of Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, which had announced in October it was selling the property. The price paid at the time valued the entire complex at about $1 billion — putting the price on the majority stake at $660 million.
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Under the Investment Canada Act, the deal was reviewed by the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada because it was for more than $600 million. Anbang structured the deal through a company called Maple Red Financial Management Canada.
The deal closed in April, leaving the remaining stake in Bentall’s four towers under the control of GWL Realty Advisors, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Great-West Life Assurance Company, which has 286 properties under management, representing 58.9 million square feet of space and $17.1 billion in assets. Ivanhoé Cambridge provided property management for the Bentall Centre, but Anbang is said to have signed a deal with the Canderel Group of Companies for future services.
“The question everybody wants to know is what GWL got,” said a source about Anbang’s likely purchase of the remaining stake. The deal has not yet closed.
GWL Realty did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Anbang has become increasingly active in North American real estate markets and last week Bloomberg News suggested the insurance company was behind one of the biggest hotel transactions in Canadian history.
Publicly traded InnVest Real Estate Investment Trust, which counts a stake in Toronto’s famed Fairmont Royal York among its 109 hotel holdings, agreed earlier this month to a $2.1-billion deal with Bluesky Hotels and Resorts Inc. As part of the deal, Bluesky agreed to put $100 million into escrow until it closes in the third quarter of this year.
A press release issued with the InnVest sale indicated Bluesky was backed by Hong Kong capital, but the wire service says the company’s chief executive is also an Anbang employee.
Anbang is part of wave of foreign money pouring into Canadian commercial real estate, much of it from Asia, which is taking advantage of a weak loonie. CBRE Hotels said Asian capital made up about about eight to nine per cent of the $2.3 billion in hotel purchases made last year in Canada.
Sources have indicated that Anbang is continuing to look for investment opportunities in North America, including Canada. Last year, the company paid $110 million for a land lease of the HSBC Building at 70 York St. in Toronto in what was at the time considered one of the highest recent valuations for a commercial office building in the city. The land lease only gives it ownership of the building for a set period of time.
Before that the insurance company bought the famed Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City for US$1.9 billion in 2014. Anbang was set to pay US$14 billion to buy Starwood Hotels and Resorts Inc., but ultimately walked away from the the deal March.
They are hardly the only foreign buyer making a beeline for Canada. In January, German multi-billionaire Klaus-Michael Kuehne paid about $400 million for Royal Centre, a 36-storey building at 1055 West Georgia St. in Vancouver.