UrbanToronto sat down recently with Chris Harhay, President of Harhay Construction Management Ltd. as it morphs into Harhay Developments, to learn the story of the company and to talk about their unique projects, especially 'The Ninety' and the new 'oneeleven' Bathurst.
Chris, tell us about your father starting Harhay Construction Management Ltd.
He started the company in 1987, and we were doing all sorts of different construction management activities; industrial buildings, renovations, retrofits, primarily commercial. Walter’s got a professional engineering designation. He did dams, bridges, highways across Canada with other companies, and our guys have done the Olympic Oval project in Calgary, John Zoras was project super on a hydroelectric station here. Our team really started from heavy a civil projects background.
In 2000 we did our first condo, the Tecumseth Lofts. The owner was a textile producer, an he wanted to add on top of the building and renovate, and he met with Walter, and they ended up joint venturing on that, adding condos above and keeping the commercial down below. So we fell into the condo business as it was evolving; that building was one of the first condos in King West.
Ten years ago I looked at this and said ‘maybe we should call ourselves Harhay Developments because really we’re developing, but we decided not to at that point as there was a reputation behind our name, people who do buy in our buildings do know the quality of our work, and that quality stems from the fact that we are the developer and the constructor. Other developers hire a general contractor to construct, and there’s a fundamental difference in what happens. We from the very beginning when we design a building we look at it not only from the development point of view, but from the construction point of view. What problems are we going to have if we design it this way? How can we better build this? We know what problems purchasers are going to have on the back end, so how can we better design it on the front end? So we think that’s a great name, so that’s why we decided to leave our name as Harhay Construction Management back then.
Now what we’re doing is trying to better reflect what we are dong so that people better understand who we are - you know, we get plenty of calls asking ‘would you be interested in project managing this?’ and I have to explain that ‘well, no, I’m a developer, I only do projects where I’m an owner, I don’t do third party project management. So, that’s why we are now transitioning to Harhay Developments to make it more clear for people.
You have joint ventured on a number of your projects.
On the equity side we always partner with people – so we run the project control – but we have partners. Most every developer is set up that way, whether they are open to the public about it or not. In the cases of Tecumseth Lofts, Abbey Lofts, 169 John, East Lofts, 32 Stewart and Zen Lofts, at those projects we had equity participation from others, but we were really the lead.
And then we came to Gläs and Parc and Theatre Park. We’ve partnered up on each with Brad Lamb and Niche Developments, so there are three partners in each of these developments. The concept there was when we started at Gläs that Brad is great at marketing and selling, Niche is great at interior design and architecture, so with us as developer and constructor we have this great team.
At oneeleven Bathurst and The Ninety, these are much bigger projects for us. For a builder of boutique condos, a family business, we wanted to partner with Carttera, a boutique money manager. Below, Chris Harhay stands with Kathryn Schnurr, Director of Investments of Carttera Management Inc., and Matt Outhwaite, Project Superintendent (for The Ninety) at Harhay. The three were on hand at April 5th's topping off party at The Ninety.
Tell me about The Ninety. You are topping off a building that has an existing commercial component that has remained occupied during the build.
It’s a 222-unit mid-rise condo, nine storeys on the south component and eight storeys on the north component, where we’ll have occupancy this coming September. What’s unique about is there is an 80,000 square foot office building on the north side of it that is occupied. I don’t think that most people in the city know we’re doing this: it’s such a unique thing to be building on top of an occupied building with all of the challenges that brings.
When we went to acquire the property - Walter and I walked through there back in 2007 - we walked through the corridors thinking ‘this is a really handsome building’. We looked at the pillars with flared capitals and - excuse my language - said ‘this place is built like a brick shit house.’ It was built in 1933 as a Coca-Cola bottling plant; it was a heavy industrial building with offices up above. So, Walter being a professional engineer and thinking out of the box thought ‘we don’t need to tear this building down, we can build on top of it’. We thought we could three floors, it turned out we could add four. Also - it was fully occupied, awesome funky office space, and turning the tenants out would be a shame. We go into the approvals process, bringing a nine-storey building that respects the neighbourhood, and we said to the City, ‘look, not only are we going to build a condo here which is needed for neighbourhood renewal, but we’re going to keep jobs in the neighbourhood. The City loved it, but they said ‘how do we know that you’re not going to change it later?’ So we said ‘put it in our Section 37 agreement. We’ll commit. We’re not changing it. It’s great, it’s a live-work-play concept’.
We had just come off East Lofts, which again, was retail, a full level of office, and condos above; a true live-work-play new build. I was really big on it from a planning perspective. I really think that in the planning realm they should really be looking at this model in the long term. Office is the lesser use, it’s not the highest and best use, so most buildings will have retail at ground, and condo above because that’s how you maximize profitability, but there are some positive attributes of putting office in the building that can justify it. Now if you’re just trying to max your profit, well… we’re not necessarily about that. We’re a private company, we do our own thing, and we want to leave something behind to be proud of here, so we’re able to justify it on our own metric. So we did that there, we’ve kept office at The Ninety, and it’s led to oneeleven Bathurst. We’ll have a level of office, and our partners are agreeable to doing it. We really believe in it.
At The Ninety it was a smooth approval process, with the city councillor and planning staff supportive of it. We respected the urban fabric and character. Every other developer just wanted to tear it down for condos.
So you’ve just launched oneeleven Bathurst, a project that has generated a lot of positive feedback in the UrbanToronto Forum based on the renderings. Tell us more about the project.
First off - location. We worked really hard to get this site - it’s one of those that comes along once in a career. There were 21 bidders to get this site, so for a small family business developer to get this site, we were ecstatic. To have this exposure on a corner site at Adelaide with a full-length along Bathurst, in the heart of King West, was fantastic.
So then we said ‘this needs to be a high-design building’. King West is a sophisticated and mature neighbourhood in terms of condos, and we need to reflect that in our design. So we got Core Architects to continue to do what they’ve been doing in King West, which is high-design, along with II by IV Interior Design - everything they’ve done for us has been fantastic - and we bring our quality finishes - higher quality hardwood flooring, higher quality standard tiles than other developers.
As a developer and constructor, we’re involved from the very beginning to the very end, the end being the Tarion obligations which are seven years, so we want purchasers to be happy. I see what purchasers are unhappy with at the back end, so while other developers are doing urethane floors because it’s cheaper, we saw there’d be efficiencies from less repairs, and we said ‘You know what? We’re going to spend that extra money and put oil-based hardwood flooring in as standard, even though it cost us more on the front end.’ Now the warranty costs are down on the back end, and we’ve built good will with purchasers. And with our higher quality standards, people don’t upgrade as much in our buildings as they don’t have to.
So we went to Core, looking for the next evolution from Charles Gane of their 650 King design just south of us, and we have this amazing plum brick base and we really focused on creating a solid, street-front base, articulated into columns that mirror the smaller street-front units along King Street, as opposed to some big monolithic Walmart style base. We also think the playful in-and-out with the exterior columns higher up is a really great look, and that evolves from what we’re trying to do inside. The thought was ‘penthouses’. Sometimes you’re developing, as Charles puts it, the building to sell the penthouses. What if we could create penthouses on the lower levels? What if more people could have access to fantastic units? If you look at the standard condo, there’s often too much cookie-cutter down below with the great stuff up top, which only a selective few people can actually access. So we have 12 two-storey units scattered throughout the building, with great terraces here and here and here. There are 255 units in here with 41 floor unique plans. As a builder, I can tell you, that’s a pain in the butt, and the hems and haws I get from some sub-contractors, every floor becomes a challenge, but the people who buy in our buildings love it. It translates into great condos, and great value, if you look at what the resales have been in our buildings, way above the average.
We believe there’s a demand for larger unit types here, people who have bought in buildings like 32 Stewart, or the Freed buildings in the area, and they want to stay in the area but make a step up. I’m a huge believer in you outdoor amenity space being your outdoor terraces and balconies - not so much the common amenity terrace - but the one you’ll use every day, so we redesigned the building a few times to add balconies, and now 80% of the units have substantial balconies and terraces. In some instances the units have terraces that are nearly the size of the indoor unit itself.
Your balconies are wide enough for people to enjoy a dinner out on them.
We do our balconies 6 feet wide instead of the typical 5 or less that most developers do, and they’ve got barbecues with a gas hook-up. Some other developers are doing that now, but when we started doing that no-one else was doing that as standard.
We have an 875 square foot unit, shallow so it has tons of glass, with an 845 square foot terrace. This space is fantastic. When people are actually able to walk out there and really use the space they are really appreciative of what they’ve bought.
We know what the building will look like from Bathurst and Adelaide. How will it mesh with the Plazacorp and Context proposals going in to the block to the east of oneeleven?
Assuming that their proposals go through - they are at earlier stages - the plan for this block is to have a public realm space which will punch through from King on the Context site and have these interior courtyards with fantastic restaurants and amenities and public spaces, the Plazacorp site will have a public park that will connect with the Context public space, and we will have connection points through the laneway from Bathurst and Adelaide. We’re going to liven-up and animate the laneway as part of the public realm plan; we’re going to put in a different kind of stone treatment, we’re going to light it up, we’re going to animate it with windows facing into the laneway. Our lobby has glass facing into the laneway and a planter outside that to make an indoor-outdoor connection. We’ve spent a lot of time - all three developers have met to to work through how we create all this connectivity - to make this a functional, fantastic, accessible public realm.
One other thing that is coming about here - I’ve joked about this with the city planner - my wife and I like to go to Blowfish at the corner of King and Bathurst, and if she’s wearing heels, she doesn’t want to walk far from where the car’s parked naturally, so we’re putting in a level of public parking at oneeleven so I don’t have to drive around the block looking for it!
So we’ve joked about it, but honestly, this is where public parking should be going, in these new developments. It’s necessary. It will compliment the retail and office in our building and support the neighbourhood.
The word neighbourhood gets thrown around a lot in the development industry, but there really seems to be the intention here to create a new neighbourhood that respects the local vernacular while introducing today’s architecture.
There’s more to urban planning than just looking at one-off structures and that can happen as applications come in, but what is great about this site is that all three of us are looking at this block at the same time and we are able to work together and compliment each other’s designs to truly create a neighbourhood on this block… and only when you have all three working at the same time can you have connectivity and the attributes that each project needs to bring to make this what it is going to become.
UrbanToronto thanks Chris Harhay for sitting down with us. Look for other reports on Harhay projects on UrbanToronto, and you can see renderings of oneeleven and The Ninety and get all the info on these buildings in our database listings below.
|Related Companies:||Baker Real Estate Inc., Brad J. Lamb Realty, Carttera Private Equities, Core Architects, Harhay Developments, II BY IV DESIGN, Jablonsky, Ast and Partners, Quest Window Systems, The Walsh Group|