January 19, 2011
This week we chat with Sam Crignano, Principal at Cityzen Development Group.
Mr. Crignano gives us the scoop on a handful of Cityzen’s exciting projects, explains the challenges of working with family, and tells us about the app that sold him on the iPhone.
BuzzBuzzHome: How did you get your start in the business?
Sam Crignano: I’ve always been fascinated by real estate development. I guess it started when I was a kid and my old man was a carpenter. He and my uncles would buy houses and fix them up. I’d follow them around on weekends looking at farmland and properties and just basically help them out.
BBH: Cityzen has been involved in some really innovative marketing initiatives, the Name Our Condo contest and Virtual Broker program for instance. How important is it for you to differentiate yourselves in a packed marketplace?
SC: What I’d say is that first and foremost we try to achieve the best possible design. So, to me, aesthetic is important, particularly in terms of all the benefits it has on its neighbourhood. Hopefully that gives you some distinction and puts you at a level above everyone else.
What we’ve proven is that design sells and great design sells better. We proved that with our project out in Mississauga [Absolute World] and time and time again on other projects as well. It costs more money to achieve that, but the marketplace recognizes it and is prepared to pay a premium for it.
BBH: What’s going on with Backstage? Can you give us an update?
SC: We had the broker launch on Monday [January 10, 2011], and the response was amazing. We had about 350 VIP brokers attend the orientation, and then on Tuesday we had the VIP insiders event for friends and family and basically anyone who is related to us in one way, shape or form.
January 15th and 16th was the VIP broker launch, which was a huge success. There were a lot of deals written, and we are now gearing up for our February launch to the public.
BBH: Congratulations on your recent purchase of the Cherry Street/Lakeshore site. What can we expect to see there?
SC: Well, the Cherry Street site is a property that was owned by Home Depot, and was subject to a zoning bylaw that was brought before council during the summer and was approved. There are aspects of that bylaw that we wish to change so we are currently working to assemble our consulting team in terms of our architects and other service providers that we require to guide us through the process.
We’re probably two to three years away from coming to market but we’re excited about the property given the fact that it’s probably the last parcel in private ownership on the Toronto waterfront.
BBH: You also bought Build Toronto’s 154 Front. St. East site – anything you can let us know about that?
SC: With respect to 154 Front Street East, we’re just beginning the process. We’ve chosen our architect: Architect’s Alliance. And we’ve started the consultative process with the community. We hope to be making our approval application shortly, and are looking at a possible marketing start late this year or early next.
BBH: What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
SC: As a 12 or 13 year old kid, I worked part-time at a bakery, cleaning their pizza fans. It was a greasy, dirty mess.
BBH: iPhone, Blackberry or Android?
SC: Actually, for a while I was using both the iPhone and the Blackberry but I’ve now switched entirely over to the iPhone. I’ve also got a MacBook on my desk. The reason for that is that I use a lot of apps, one in particular called OmniFocus that I use for project management. So I’m a Mac guy.
BBH: We have to ask about Absolute World. What can you say about a project that has had so much media coverage for the past few years?
SC: I’d say it now speaks for itself. Enough with the adjectives and all those descriptive terms, people can now go and actually experience it with their eyes.
BBH: You recently moved from the ‘burbs to your London on The Esplande project. How are you finding downtown living?
SC: Love it! The fact that my office is two doors away from where I live and I can simply walk there is a big convenience given that I spend a lot of time in the office.
This neighbourhood is so rich with amenities. We have the St. Lawrence Market, we’re surrounded by theatres, some of the best restaurants in the city are in this neighbourhood, and I can trek down to the waterfront, hop on a ferry and in minutes I’m on the island. It’s pretty amazing.
From a business stand-point, we’re a stones-throw away from the financial district and so we can walk over there, too. The sheer convenience and the cornucopia of amenities is amazing.
BBH: Cityzen has an active social media campaign. How important is social media as a marketing tool?
SC: I guess to some degree [people in the industry] are all experimenting with it. We all realize the potential and recognize social media’s importance, but none of us fully understands it yet.
I’ve actually been doing it for years in terms of posting on various social media sites. I started this process maybe three years ago with a simple Twitter account and I’ve gradually grown to fifty different social media sites that I was posting to. I even created a blog.
So it’s a communications tool and, to a certain extent, it’s gratifying. Clearly social media is becoming a part of everyone’s day-to-day life, so it’ll be interesting too see how we use it in the future and to watch how it evolves.
BBH: How do you find working with your wife, daughter and son at Cityzen?
SC: [Laughs] Difficult! As with any family business, it has its positives, but the fact is that you tend to bring work home and it’s not unusual for us to be discussing business at the table and that obviously irritates my youngest daughter who’s not really involved in the business in any way.
We shouldn’t bring it home but that’s obviously difficult because business is so much a part of us. And certainly there’s also a degree of pride in the fact that your kids are interested and involved in the business.
My wife and I started this thing from scratch and she’s always been a very important part of it all.
BBH: Cityzen are involved with charity work, most notably with Epilepsy Toronto – how did this come about?
SC: It’s a community-based project that revolves around the annual BuskerFest,which takes place in our neighbourhood.
We got involved two years ago and the more we learned about it, the more we liked it and became active participants in it, both in terms of being involved in the organizational side of it and also in the fundraising aspect and actually participating in the event. We always look forward to it.
BBH: And lastly, any words of advice for newly married BuzzBuzz Chief Bee Matthew Slutsky?
SC: [Laughs] “Yes dear, anything you want dear.”
Our thanks to Sam Crignano. For more information on Cityzen’s projects, click here.