Industrial space at a premium in Richmond

Not only are people struggling to find rental homes in Richmond and across the Lower Mainland, but businesses are also feeling the pinch.

Recently, tenants in an industrial building on Bathgate Way were told they needed to leave as the new owner was going to renovate the building, which has left some of them scrambling to find new space for their established businesses.

Since getting the news, Andrew Caras, owner of Capital Cooler Rentals, has been calling realtors and exploring options to store his kitchen-grade mobile coolers that need a clean, dry space for storage.

Caras said he feels particularly bad for businesses in the complex that have invested in machinery or kitchen facilities, like walk-in fridges, that can’t easily be moved.

“There’s a lot of cost involved — two-months notice is not enough,” he said.

After phoning several realtors to find a space for his business — he needs about 1,200 square feet — he has been told there is nothing available in that size in Richmond. There were some units at 4,000 square feet, but when he asked about smaller units, the standard response has been “good luck.”

Brad Herauf is general manager of Batch Foods, located in the same complex and is also facing eviction after being in the building since 2012.

Giving a business only two months to find a new location is not nearly enough time, Herauf said.

“There has to be a process in place to give businesses six months (to relocate),” he said. Finding a unit to rent that’s empty with a kitchen and that’s permitted by the health authority is challenging, he added.

Batch Foods ended up buying a similar existing business in Langley and they will run the two businesses out of the same location.

“We scrambled and came up with that solution,” he said.

However, most of Batch Foods’ business is in Richmond, Vancouver and North Vancouver, so the Langley location will add to their commute time, and some of their part-time employees won’t follow them as it’s too far to go by public transit, Herauf explained.

Caras has written to mayor and council, appealing to the city to do more to protect various sizes of industrial and commercial space, for example, allowing businesses to rent buildings on farmland or close to the airport.

He would like to see a certain percentage of smaller units created when industrial space is being developed.

Despite having more than 36 million square feet of industrial space — the largest inventory of all regional municipalities — the vacancy rate in Richmond is only 1.7 per cent, closely mirroring the rest of Metro Vancouver, according to city spokesperson Clay Adams.

The city is currently reviewing how industrial land is used with the aim to find ways to amend policies and bylaws to encourage higher density or higher productivity.

“Recruiting and retaining industries and businesses is an important part of the city’s Official Community Plan and Economic Development Richmond,” said Adams.

The city maintains a commercial and industrial real estate portal where businesses can search for available space.

The BC Chamber of Commerce is also concerned about shrinking industrial land, something the region has seen in the past 30 years. It published a position paper calling for action from the province, saying that “preservation of industrial lands cannot be accomplished at the local level.”

In the paper, the chamber of commerce points out that Richmond, among other municipalities, has converted some industrial land to residential and mixed use.

The chamber is asking the provincial government to survey how much industrial land exists in the province, to develop a provincial land-use strategy as well as establish provincial oversight and some formalized communication between land-use authorities and the province about how to enact and enforce policies or regulations.

Caras is considering sharing a space with another tenant that’s also losing its space on Bathgate and he’s looking at other options as well.

The fact that Capital Coolers and the other businesses haven’t even vacated the premises but a “for lease” sign has been put up in front of the building is a “slap in the face,” Caras said.

The property manager of the building, Transpacific, emailed a statement to the Richmond News, saying the two buildings were built 40 years ago and are “in need of significant upgrades.”

They say there are health and safety, structural and fire code problems with the building that the new owners want to address. “As the remediation work required is substantial, it cannot be completed with the buildings occupied.”

The renos will start in early fall and will take a few months to complete, Transpacific states, and the units will then be offered at current market value, taking into account the improvements made.

© Richmond News