We continue our conversation with Shelley Fenton of Reserve Properties at the presentation centre for Rise condos.
Tell us about Rise.
We have a very unique project with Rise that has a strong community feel. Many of the people who live in the neighbourhoods around here want their families to live close, so we're finding a lot of people helping their children buy a unit here. My kids are 28 and 30: Shane and Jessica are are the exact people who would want to live in this building, so we have created a building with Shane and Jessica and their friends in mind. They want to have the advantage of the St. Clair West scene going on right now. It feels like you're on College Street with all the restaurants, the various places. In this building we probably have 30% investors, 70% users.
Did the St. Clair right of way have any impact in your decision to purchase these properties? Intensification is going on right along the corridor and a lot of these projects have sprouted up closer to the completion of the line.
The answer is no. Having public transportation and the streetcar is important, so for a place to live, having the streetcar is a good thing. You might have a few businesses complaining because you can't turn easily on the street and it's more challenging to get to parking, but for residential usage it makes for a nice feel. I grew up in the area and have lived here 53 years. My kids have grown up in the area. We love it here, and when I had the opportunity to look at what community would have a need for and where would I like to build, what better place to do that then in your own backyard. This was a lot of fun for me, creating something that would address all the issues. I want to be very proud of what we've created, and I think that it's something very special. It's not only going to be a great place to live, it's going to be a great place for the community to drive by and say 'That's quite interesting, I like what they've done there, this is a nice elegant way to make a statement for the corner of Bathurst and St. Clair.'
Tell us about the choice of architect for Rise.
Graziani and Corazza are very capable and talented architects. Enzo Corazza, who has been the lead on our particular project, and to some degree Barry Graziani his partner, have a very interesting international flavour. They've been actively involved in many Downtown highrise buildings. They have a reputation within the city of Toronto as being good architects who recognise the importance at creating attractive buildings. With that in mind, they came to the top of our list, and we've had a fun time working with them. It's all about enjoying what you do, and we love what we do.
Is there a particular architectural statement you want to make here?
We have created a very interesting Mondrian style of architecture. Piet Mondrian was a Dutch painter, grew up in Paris, and passed away in the mid 40s, but he had a very distinctive artistic theme. We've tried to take advantage of that. The strong lines that you see - the offsetting of windows, the rectangular pieces that are different sizes make it artistic - make it very interesting and to have that right at the corner is fabulous so we've taken advantage of bringing Piet Mondrian to Toronto.
Tell us about the floor plans and the amenities that buyers will find at Rise.
This building has got lifestyle, so I can walk you through a beautiful suite with high end finishes, everyone having their own balcony, everyone having their own barbecue. Some people with 300 square foot balconies to enjoy the city views. We're sitting here in the model suite and that's the identical view from the 20th floor that you'll see from the suite. That's what you're staring at. Now if you can bring a hotel vibe and a lifestyle of something like the Thompson Hotel into this particular project – which gives 18,000 square foot of amenity space in our building, 9,000 outdoors – outside eating areas, cabanas, fire pits, infinity swimming pool, our outside space is fantastic. You can sit out there and have a drink at night. You can sit by the pool during the day and feel like you're on holiday. In the interior amenity space we have a yoga room and a gym that all faces outside so you have a view. You have a library, you have a dining room and bar where you can bring your friends and have a private party. You have a media room where you can just watch a movie, a library where you can just sit and chat with someone or reed a book. So, you have all the niceties of that 18,000 square foot amenity space that is associated with your 600 or 700 square foot suite. So you don't live in 700 square feet, you live in 18,700 square feet, which makes it great. This has been a place that has been really well received by young people who want to have a funky setting but high end finishes.
Interior pool as well, or just exterior?
No; just exterior. I found that most people don't use an interior pool, most people use an outside pool. They want to sit and sunbathe and enjoy the view of the city.
Tell us about some of the amenities for your infill projets. What will buyers in those buildings find since the buildings are fairly small overall.
Each building is unto its own. The person who's buying in the Beach doesn't need to have their amenities based inside because they're all outside. They can walk to the lake, they can walk to Kew Gardens, so it's all there. Everyone there is animal sensitive and we expect that many of our owners will have pets. We've created a place where they can clean their pets up without intruding on the carpets, the hardwood, or whatever is in the building that affects others. Your amenities in some of the smaller boutique buildings are more minimal from the perspective of grand oppulence that you might have in a building like Rise because it's what people want. They want simple, they don't want to have expensive fees to pay on common elements, because they have all of their needs taken care of primarily outside. You might have a party room, but something simple, small, and effective, but not luxurious.
Are infill projects less investor driven than your typical highrise building?
Yes, most of the infill projects we've been building in the city have been geared to people who want to use the facility on their own. So the good news for investors is this: if it's a place where people want to really live, then you've got a great investment. But you have to be sensitive to what a lot of the Asian marketplace and what a lot of the foreign investors have come too: they want to invest on Yonge Street, in downtown, and on a subway line. Explaining The Beach – to me, I get it, I love it – but explaining The Beach to a foreign investor is like 'what is this Beach, I don't get it'. If you were to say 'is that a great place to invest', I would say 'phenomenal'. You have some very smart international investors who get it and invest out there with us. That's where your best upside for potential appreciation is: when you're in a neighbourhood that wants a place to live. That means that the owner of the investment has 10 people interested, and not just an investor wanting to buy it. So, we're focusing not just on tenants, but on people who really want to live there. That's really why we're so sensitive to getting the architecture correct. It's not just putting up a cheap box that someone can say 'I bought a 600 sq ft condo unit for the cheapest price'. No, we go with high end finishes, we go with European appliances, gas, we have 9 foot ceilings, we do the things that are features for people who are smart and want to live in something that's really special.
You don't see too many condos with gas hookups on the balcony for barbecues.
Exactly, that's what we've addressed about the demographic needs – 'What do people want to have?' – and we focus on that, it's important. In the infill sites in specialty communities, you give them what they want. You give people something really special which makes it a better investment for those who are smart enough to buy it as an investment. The Beach for sure was primarily for end users. Ossington is primarily end users.
Will we be seeing more larger suites in the boutique buildings?
The majority of buildings that are high rises feature suites that are 600 to 700 sq feet. Our smallest is 400 and our largest is 876 so we've geared the lifestyle to who the buyer is. The boutique buildings quite often have some larger suites because you're most likely catering too an older crowd that wants more space, but it's also about affordability. You're seeing smaller units because that's the only way to get your cost to be more affordable. I think everyone would love to live in 2,000 sq ft if they could, if the price was what you paid for 600 sq ft. It's reality that's in check.
What we're doing today is focusing on the demands and needs of the city right now. We look at these infill midrise buildings that intensify busy areas like Queen, Ossington, St. Clair, and Bathurst, and we're trying to fill a need. The City has said we need intensification in corridor locations and that is what we're trying to recognize in the spirit of what we're doing. Many of the infill buildings allow people to have their own independence and the ability to have their own statement in a boutique building and we feel that there is a demand for that. When you're dealing in the city, you don't necessarily get a vast piece of property that you can go put a 300,000 square foot building. You're limited to building 50,000 or 60,000 square feet, so you have to be sensitive to what's around you and how much land you have to work with.
What's next for Reserve Properties. Anything you can tell us about what's coming up?
We've recognized a very strong demand in the Ossington and Queen area, and we have a new project of about 100 condo units that's going to be about 65% 1 bedroom, 1 + den, and about 20% that will be 2 bedrooms.
You're talking about the autobody shop?
The autobody shop and the building beside it. We have acquired a half acre there, and our plan is to create a 6-storey building that's really funky and a lot of fun. Its name is going to be 109 Oz, and I think we've hit it right on with what the young people in the area want.
Is this Raw Design again?
Raw is working with us, preregistration is up, and it's going to be a lot of fun. We've geared it to the lifestyle that you have down in that area. Great restaurants, great bars, it's got a really neat vibe to the area. Lots of interesting stores and boutiques and art galleries in the area. We're fulfilling a need for these people that love that lifestyle. It's not just young, you have a real mix. A lot of people who want to live there in their mid-life crisis.
Similar to the project in the Beach where the locals are downsizing, do you get the old Portuguese families in that area coming to you here?
The Portuguese folks are staying where they are. We're not catering to the local international. We're catering to that someone who grew up in Yorkville 40 years ago.
People who are newer to the neighbourhood?
People who either lived in the area for longer, or the young urban professional who is artsy. Really I think we're catering to the artsy crowd. It doesn't matter if you're 60 or 25. What we're doing is artsy driven. Very out there and with it. Again II by IV is on centre ice helping us pick up what the market niche is.
What's really interesting in the Beach, we had as much interest from someone your age as we had from a 70 year old downsizer wanting to live in that building. That was amazing, and we hit it right on. Everyone wanted to live there, how often can you do that?
It's becoming more and more like that because a lot of the yonger people don't want to live in Markham and commute downtown, and they get the idea that it's close walking distance. The streetcar is there. It's close to downtown. It's kind of fun to be working on, because it's not just building, but you're looking at the local society, so it's a sociology question. You're saying 'who's going to live here, what do they want'. It's not about building something to live it, but it's about creating a lifestyle that caters to who we think wants to live here.
Your buildings sort of say that by what you have been doing in the various neighbourhoods.
My work is my hobby and my hobby is my work, and my kids Shane and Jessica have the same motto. We love what we do and we're fortunate that we love it. How many people say 'Jeez, thank goodness it's Friday.' I say 'thank goodness it's Monday'. I wish more people lived with the 'thank goodness it's Monday' approach to life, because then they would be happier about what they do. At this stage in the game I've been doing this for 30 years and we're good at what we do so we're now able to choose the projects that we want to work on as opposed to doing everything. Sometimes you just have to work, and make those dollars come through the door. Now we're able to choose what we spend our time doing, which is kind of fun.
You speak very highly of this area [St. Clair & Bathurst], the Beach, and the Ossington area. What is your favourite Toronto neighbourhood, and your favourite Toronto building?
Today The Rise is my favourite building [laughs]. We created something that is really special right in my backyard. This is where I grew up and where I still live. I love what we did in the church at Bellefair because that was one of the more interesting projects I've worked on and catering too how you deal with the community, the church, and with good architecture. That was a lot of fun to work on. It's also an area I was so fond of because I wasn't a cottage person and we used to take our kids down there on weekends. I lived in the city in the summertime so how do you get to where it's cool? You go down to the waterfront. Right now this project Rise, I love what we've created. We're having a ball. The success we've had in selling the units is a reflection that we hit it and we got it right?
Are you sold out yet?
We released 235 units, and we have 210 of them called for. This weekend we're going to release another 2 floors –the 20th and 21st floors – so that will put another 30 to 35 units on the marketplace. The point is that the market absorbed about 90% of what we released. Not many people do that in 2 months, so our price point was right. Our quality was right. The amenities were right on. Everyone comments about what's here. We're lucky that we happen to be putting it in a community that speaks for itself. I didn't create St. Clair West, it's here. I didn't create the parks that are just to the east of us or put the subway right next door. I don't have to put the Loblaws right across the street or the Shoppers that you can walk too: they're here. So all of those things are fantastic to have where you live in a great commmunity. If you were to say choose a favourite, I've got many, but I really have to say right here.
UrbanToronto thanks Shelley Fenton for talking with us.