If it bothers Ian Gillespie that he’s the most vilified developer in Vancouver — a city with a particular disdain for real estate moguls — it’s not apparent. In fact, he has critiques of his own for his hometown.
“We’ve risen to a high level of mediocrity,” Gillespie declares as he gestures toward the window of his office at Westbank Corp., the company he founded 27 years ago. Outside, a slew of glass towers are crammed along a cobalt harbor, set across picturesque mountains.
“Three-quarters of the buildings in this city look like a piece of s—,” Gillespie says. “We’ve been sitting on our laurels because we got lucky, right?”
By luck or not, Vancouver’s pristine backdrop has made it a magnet for global wealth, particularly from Asia, transforming a once-sleepy town into an increasingly unaffordable cosmopolis. And no developer has capitalized on the phenomenon more so than Gillespie, whose opulent buildings designed by star architects have become a symbol of the city’s extreme wealth and deep divides. Now, he’s embarking on his most ambitious project yet — a decided statement against mediocrity.
At 28.5 acres, Oakridge is set to be as big as New York’s Hudson Yards, the largest private real estate development in North America. Gillespie, 58, sees the project as his defining oeuvre — a once-in-a-generation shot at elevating his town into a pioneer of sustainable, urban living. It’s the type of vision that inspires supporters and inflames the critics of his grandiose approach to city-building that, for better or worse, has helped make Vancouver what it is today.