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You worked with Westbank on one of it’s first projects, Dockside?

We had a contract to buy the property. We secured the permits and got the design together and then we sold it to Ian. These were early days and Westbank didn’t really have a large profile, however, I was aware of their involvement with Abbey Woods and Ian was very keen to do the deal and so we thought, why not?

And now, a dozen years later, what do you think?

Over the years, I’ve watched Westbank and they are certainly one of the developers in the country that places a very high value on design, on creativity and on the integration of art into projects. And while Ian has a very clear idea of where each project should go, he doesn’t control every aspect. The people who work with him appreciate that he trusts them and allows them to add their own value to the project and their own design ideas. The big vision is his but he’s able to get a lot of loyalty out of people because he allows them to contribute.

He doesn’t sweat the details the way some developers do. When you look at how the company staffs up a development project they have a much leaner organization than most other developers do. They are certainly one of a few firms that has a very stripped down management structure.

Has Westbank had a significant impact on Vancouver?

Yes, just look at the skyline, you can see it. As importantly, Westbank takes on projects that are not just for the return on investment. I think Ian has a long term vision of his company as part of this community and wants to contribute. So if a project like Woodward’s comes up and has an overall community benefit, even if it isn’t extraordinarily profitable, he’ll jump at the opportunity to do it because it enhances Westbank’s reputation as part of the community and it reflects his social interests too.

Does Westbank have a signature style?

With the exception of Woodward’s I would say that yes they do have a distinct style because so many of the projects were done by Jim Cheng. And certainly Jim Cheng has a very modernist, sort of stripped down aesthetic which obviously Ian is quite comfortable with. Apart from the Woodward’s tower and Simon Fraser, most of the projects are like that. But the style will evolve in the future as more types of projects are taken on. I don’t think it’s necessarily a good thing for a development company to have one style, I think they should be able to react to new circumstances and that is beginning to happen already.

Your son, architect Gregory Henriquez, approached Ian to be on the Woodward’s team. Why Westbank?

Gregory took the deal to Ian and had to twist his arm a little bit – but not too much – to get them involved. We went to Westbank because they’re risk takers; Ian is a risk taker. People look at Woodward’s now as a game changer in Vancouver. That project has done wonders for Westbank’s position in the community, in my opinion.

Let me explain that concept of risk taking with another example. During the downturn in the economy when a lot of developers’ projects went on hold, Ian was one of the very few of our clients who kept all of the projects going throughout that time. I think Ian just has an intrinsic optimism and faith that things will work out and enough of an understanding of the way the world works to realize that the risks were worth taking. If he kept going he would have product on the market at a time when his competitors might not, whereas if he had shut everything down he would be competing with them when things turned around. And he gets full marks for that.

I think you can expect great things from Westbank. In fact, if it were a public company, I would buy stock.