Development boom ramping up in Canada’s four largest office markets

New development cycles are taking shape in Canada’s four largest business centres as landlords and developers launch large-scale office projects in response to strong market conditions and a scarcity of available space, according to Jones Lang LaSalle’s Look Forward series, which forecasts development and vacancy trends in Downtown Class A office development in Toronto, Montréal, Calgary and Vancouver through 2016 and 2017.

Based on the projects either currently under construction or confirmed, the surge in new office development in Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver represents the most significant uptick in new construction in a decade or more, according to the report. The extremely low vacancy rate in Downtown Calgary (0.7 per cent for Class AA and Class A space) has recently prompted a new wave of development in the market at a time when limited office supply is leaving “captive” tenants little option but to extend existing leases.

“The combination of low vacancy rates, strong demand and the continued economic strength of these four markets creates a highly favourable environment for new development,” said Brett Miller, president of Jones Lang LaSalle’s Canada operations. “For tenants, this is a welcome trend considering the current limited space options for new and large blocks of space, and the steadily rising rental rates in this landlord-friendly environment. With major new supply being added, these markets are likely to shift closer to equilibrium over the next five years as landlords lose some of their current leverage.”

The Next Generation of Buildings: An Emphasis on Energy Efficiency

One key difference between the current building boom and previous cycles is the emphasis on energy-efficient, “smart” design features. Virtually all of the projects under construction or in the planning stages are designed to receive LEED Gold or Platinum certification.

“This new supply of office buildings will offer tenants significant cost savings through sustainable design, as well as innovative features that will help attract the best employees,” Miller said. “At the same time, these state-of-the-art buildings will put pressure on the landlords of older buildings to invest in sustainable features and technology improvements to stay competitive.”

A New Round of Development

The “Look Forward” series provides a forecast for new supply through 2016 under three scenarios – “base case,” “medium case,” and “high case,” with the medium case considered the most likely projection based on the analysis of previous development cycles.

Toronto – by far Canada’s largest office market with a downtown inventory of 69.7 million square feet and a vacancy rate of 5.1 per cent  at the end of the third quarter – is on pace for its most significant development boom since the early 1990s. Jones Lang LaSalle forecasts the completion of nine buildings totalling 5.6 million square feet. Montréal is gearing up for its most substantial building cycle since 2002-2004 with three confirmed and five forecasted new developments totalling 2.5 million square feet.

Calgary is projected to benefit from five new buildings, including the recently completed and soon-to-be fully occupied Bow Tower, totalling over 5.2 million square feet, and Vancouver is on track to add 11 buildings and over 2.7 million square feet by the end of 2017.

“In addition to the strong real estate fundamentals in these markets, the positive environment for development is enhanced by the continued low interest rates and the availability of capital at a comparatively lower cost as the economy continues to rebound across Canada,” Miller said.

“There is also greater interest among pension funds and third-party managers for real estate investment, thanks to higher yields in real estate compared to equities and alternative investments.”

Look Forward: Market Highlights


•           Confirmed projects include: Bay Adelaide Centre East, 980,000 square feet (Q1 2016 completion); One York, 35 storeys, 830,801 square feet (Q4 2016).

•           The nine buildings totalling 5.6 million square feet of new development expected through 2016 compares to 6.9 million square feet of new supply added in 1990-1992.

•           Despite the significant addition of new space, vacancy is expected to remain below 10 per cent by 2016 (8.02 per cent), which compares to the 18.6 per cent vacancy rate in 1993.

•           This development cycle is called “South Core: Round 2” because five of the 12 projects currently tracked by Jones Lang LaSalle are located south of the Gardiner Expressway.

•           If a developer secures a strong anchor tenant, pre-leasing requirements range from 35 to 50 per cent in this new development cycle, compared to the default 50 per cent requirement in 2009.


•           Confirmed projects include: Aimia Tower, 10 storeys, 236,438 square feet (Q4 2013 completion); Deloitte Tower, 26 storeys, 514,000 square feet (Q2 2015).

•           With eight proposed buildings totalling 2.5 million square feet expected to be added through 2016, the vacancy rate is likely to peak at 10 per cent in 2016 (compared to the current rate of 5.4 per cent) before dropping to 9.3 per cent in 2017.

•           The current wave of new construction is the first privately funded development boom since the early 1990s, when 4.3 million square feet of space was built downtown.

•           The cycle of new construction in 2002-2004, which totalled 2 million square feet, was influenced by government subsidies. 

•           Pre-leasing requirements currently range from 35 to 50 per cent, depending on the ownership structure, compared to 60 per cent in the previous cycle.


•           Confirmed projects include: Eighth Avenue Place – West, 40 storeys, 840,000 square feet (Q3 2014 completion) and Calgary City Centre, 36 storeys, 820,000 square feet (Q1 2016 completion).

•           Four buildings totalling 3.3 million square feet are expected to be added through 2017, significantly less than the 14 buildings and 7.4 million square feet delivered over the previous five years (including the recentl
y completed Bow Tower).

•           The low CBD vacancy rate of 0.7 per cent for Class AA and Class A space is the driving force behind the new development boom.

•           The Downtown market could potentially run out of Class AA and A space before new supply arrives in 2016.

Vacancy is expected to peak at 5.7 per cent in 2017, following the projected completion of the bulk of proposed and confirmed developments the year prior.


•           Confirmed projects include: MNP Tower, 35 storeys, 265,000 square feet (Q3 2014 completion); Telus Garden, 22 storeys, 445,000 square feet (Q3 2014); 745 Thurlow, 25 storeys 365,000 square feet (Q2 2015); and the 725 Granville Street redevelopment, 5 storeys, 280,000 square feet (Q1 2015)

•           With the 11 buildings totalling 2.7 million square feet expected to be added to the Downtown market, the vacancy rate is likely to peak at a five-year high of  8.5 per cent at the end of 2017.

•           The building boom under way in Vancouver follows a decade of limited construction in which two office towers and two mixed-use projects added 1.15 million square feet to the Downtown market.

•           New buildings in various stages of development are projected to result in a 21 per cent increase in Class A Downtown office inventory.

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