Low Tide Properties usually keeps an ultra low profile, but it’s launching another life sciences building amid broader plans for Vancouver’s first innovation district.

The real estate company has been bullish on the east side neighbourhood of Mount Pleasant, as well as an industrial area further north, on the other side of the railway tracks, adjacent to the future site of the new St. Paul’s Hospital.

The company, co-founded by Lululemon Athletica founder Chip Wilson, also owns many multi-family rental buildings in Seattle. However, the majority of their Vancouver properties are commercial and their interest in life science buildings goes back a decade, says Low Tide president Andrew Chang.

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One of the company’s more unique projects is the Wenonah Apartments at Main Street and 11th Avenue, a 1913 heritage rental property that they’ve so completely restored it holds some of the city’s finest examples of stained-glass windows and old light fixtures. But the Wenonah is more of a quiet neighbourhood passion project for the company, a one-off that showcases their interest in the city’s history. (It also underscores a rather unique approach to the real estate business).

innovation districtLow Tide's Wenonah Apartments

The life sciences buildings are their “bread and butter,” as Chang puts it.

The driver behind the niche market is a lack of supply, as demand from these homegrown start-up companies grows. Low Tide targets the research success stories that come out of University of BC, for example.

Low Tide has identified an emerging health sciences market, as well as the city’s most obvious area for future growth, based on new infrastructure. The new hospital, he says, will be a “huge, transformative game-changer” for the entire area.

“By necessity we are starting to lose tenants because they have to move elsewhere. That’s one big driver,” says Chang. “We feel very confident and positive we are filing a need for some of these companies to grow into and, being a long-term investment company, we like to see these success stories happen in Vancouver and not south of the border or somewhere else.”

Wilson has a personal stake in medical research, having been diagnosed at age 32 with the rare facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD), a progressive disease that causes muscle degeneration and weakness. The billionaire, who’s been extremely active all his life, has said in interviews that he expects to be using a wheelchair one day. Wilson committed $100 million to fighting the disease. He still has a major stake in Lululemon as well as Amer Sports, which has the Arc’Teryx brand. He launched Low Tide in 2011 and bought up a number of properties, mostly in Vancouver. Wilson also owns the city’s most expensive house, valued at around $73 million.

At 1629 Scotia Street, they are going through the permitting process and in the early stages of marketing for the nine-storey life sciences building called Lab 29, named after the address as well as a reference to No. 29 on the periodic table, which is copper. The building, scheduled for occupancy in late 2026, will be clad in a distinctive copper design and will offer tenants lab space within the hospital ecosystem that is underway.

innovation districtRendering of Lab 29, courtesy Low Tide Properties

“We tend to target what’s called the creative space, whether it’s high tech, tech life sciences and bio med companies. It’s more the creative type tenants, that’s our bread and butter, who we target,” says Chang.

“We are one of the largest life science landlords in the city of Vancouver,” he adds. “We have over half a million square feet of lab space and over a dozen tenants in Vancouver, some names you may recognize.”

Chang and co-founder and chief executive officer David Ferguson oversee a team of about 40 employees in Vancouver. Low Tide is a real estate investment, development, and management company with a long-term horizon, which means that whatever they renovate or develop they hold. They don’t do strata.

Immediately west of the upcoming Lab 29, at 1618 Station Street, is The Ferguson, an existing life sciences building that the company owns, with anchor tenant Stemcell Technologies. They own another dedicated life sciences building at 887 Great Northern Way.

By locating just outside the downtown core, the property taxes are lower, which keeps their purpose-built laboratory designs more economical for the small business tenant. Because they aren’t building for an anchor tenant for the 230,000 square-foot space, they decided to get a head start on the marketing.

“It’s not a building where we already have a tenant and we’re building for them, which is why we are starting the marketing process now, to go out there and see who’s interested and approach our existing tenants who have approached us for more space, to see what their interest is,” says Chang.

innovation districtRendering of Lab 29, courtesy Low Tide Properties

As well, their innovation district is a short walk to the Mount Pleasant tech campus just west of Main Street, and all the hip shops and breweries in the area.

“In Vancouver, the majority of our assets are commercial buildings, we just don’t happen to be in the downtown area and highly visible,” says Chang. “We tend to target neighbourhoods that are more interesting, close to downtown but not downtown, and we are very community based. And we don’t seek a big profile in what we do.”

Over on Great Northern Way, the former heavy industrial lands are quickly transforming into something of a campus environment, with the presence of three major post-secondary institutions as well as the second rapid transit station under construction as part of the Broadway extension. Low Tide started buying up properties along the corridor in 2015, and first completed a 170,000 square-foot office building with partner PCI Group, best known for its bright red petal shaped pavilion that stands in the plaza. That was followed by the lab building at 887 Great Northern Way and then they took over the old MEC Building at 1077 Great Northern Way. Electronic Arts will move into the building in the New Year. The remainder of the district will unfold between the two rapid transit stations over the next 10 years, with partners PCI.

“We have plans to build, let’s say, approximately 2 million square feet of space,” says Chang. “Our vision is to create this creative innovation district that really doesn’t exist in Vancouver, somewhat modelled after King’s Cross in the UK or South Lake Union in Seattle.

“Our vision is to create this district that is transit oriented, sustainable and 24/7 activated, where the creative tenants and the students can congregate and live, work, and play. That is our north star.”