February 2, 2011
This week we chat with Shane Fenton, Vice President at Reserve Properties.
Mr. Fenton explains Reserve’s interest in urban in-fill properties, real estate scouting by bike and the rise of mid-town.
BuzzBuzzHome: How did you get your start in the industry?
Shane Fenton: I grew up in the industry, I was fortunate that my father was involved in the development industry from the time he was in his late 20s or early 30s. So I went to my first groundbreaking when I was 4 years old. It’s in my blood.
Ever since I was a young kid, I loved the concept of building and creating things. And honestly, seeing my father do it created a greater sense of attachment for me, and enjoyment, because as a little kid wanting to spend time with his father, that’s how it started, because he’s a workaholic and I guess it transferred into me as well because you’ll find me working into the long hours of the night on Saturday and Sunday.
I love the creative side of it, I love the concept that you’re dealing with different problems and challenges and issues every day. Every project takes on a life of its own. So it’s exciting to be a part of each project and to see them grow.
BBH: Is your Dad still working?
SF: Yes, he’s still actively involved in the company, and it’s great to have him a part of it and it’s great in the sense that you kind of have a bit of the old school with the new school. We work well with each other.
BBH: What do you look for when scouting a property?
SF: It really varies. 50% of what we do is commercial, 50% is mixed use – so it really varies. At the end of the day we take, as a company, a holistic approach, where we really look at neighbourhoods that we want to be involved in, that we see great opportunity for growth, or even in established neighbourhoods – we’re very involved in The Beaches – but we’re interested in where there’s still opportunity to add value to the neighbourhood.
We say “OK, where are those sites that make sense and that would work in those neighbourhoods and where can we add the most value and do something special?” And I mean both from an architectural standpoint and from a business stand-point. The challenge is coming up with a model that works financially but also something that we feel would add value back to the community.
BBH: We hear that one of the ways you check out potential sites is by biking through the streets – how do you find this helps you?
SF: It’s a great way to combine getting some productive work done while being active and getting some fresh air. The great thing about biking and looking for properties is that you can go at different paces which gives you the ability to go smoothly from neighbourhood to neighbourhood but also get more done than walking. The challenge when you’re driving is that you keep stopping, and it doesn’t work as well.
BBH: iPhone, Blackberry or Android?
SF: Blackberry. Don’t go anywhere without it. Not going to change.
BBH: If you weren’t in the land development industry, what would you be doing?
SF: Good question. As a kid growing up, like I said, I was very involved in the development industry but I went through a stage when I had seen the movie Wall Street one too many times and thought about investment banking, but it just wasn’t for me.
So I really don’t know what I’d be doing because nothing really compares to the real estate development industry in the sense that you get to deal with finance, marketing, sales, people; there’s so many different aspects to it!
BBH: What part of the city do you call home?
SF: I’m at St. Clair. I grew up in mid-town Toronto and I’ve been here my entire life. The first house that I lived in, with my family, was Eglinton and Spadina then we moved to Avenue and St. Clair and were there for 15 years. Then, when I moved out, Yonge and St. Clair just felt like the right neighbourhood for me.
There are so many fantastic neighbourhoods in the city of Toronto that I can see myself living in but a lot of it ties into now, where is your family located? And where do your friends live? And being close to them is obviously a plus, so that’s why I stayed mid-town – and I think there’s a lot of great things going on around mid-town Toronto in that there’s a lot of great restaurants and great nightlife and you’re close enough to he Beaches, to Yorkville, to Queen and Ossington – anywhere within 15 minutes.
BBH: We have a forum on the site and someone asked if mid-town was the new downtown. A bunch of replies said mid-town is awesome. People don’t realize how cool it is.
SF: And I think now that you see so much intensification from a residential standpoint going on, more and more people are going to enjoy that commercial side of what mid-town offers versus feeling the need to rush to the downtown core, because of that intensification.
Newer restaurants and bars and cool night spots are opening up in mid-town because of the demand for it in those locations that, maybe five or ten years ago, just didn’t exist.
BBH: Reserve Properties focuses on ‘land infill’ projects – what exactly attracts you about these?
SF: Yeah, we focus on urban in-fill projects and I think the reason we like to do that is, two and a half years ago we sat down, my father and I, and asked where it was we really wanted to focus our time and energy. We really wanted to spend it on something that we truly enjoyed and something that tied into who we are.
We both live very urban lifestyles; if I had a choice of going to a gorgeous cottage in Muskoka or spending the weekend in Toronto going to my favourite restaurants, biking downtown and hanging out in the city, that would be my choice. I love the urban lifestyle. I find the suburban world – though I respect it and understand why people want to do it – not something I’m passionate about.
Therefore the types of projects and areas we pick are those that I could see myself living in. And because it’s something I’m passionate about, I can relate a lot more to it and so I understand the buyer and marketplace that much better.
BBH: How much emphasis is put on the use of retail in your projects?
SF: The cool thing for us is somewhat different than a lot of the other residential builders today. A large focus of our business is the retail side and because of that we’ve got a great group of people in our company that have a significant amount of both retail and residential experience.
And given that our focus has been probably towards the mid-rise size projects, the retail component makes up a significant percentage of our overall build.
If you have an eight-storey project, or a six-storey project, that one floor of retail as a component, relative to a 25-storey tower, is much less of an afterthought. So as a result we really make an effort to insure that our retail is properly laid out, that the column structures work for the retailers, so that we can attract high quality retailers that will in turn add value to the residential space.
I think you can always build a building that provides great residential and great retail space if you truly think it out in advance. That’s what we try to do.
BBH: You’re a relative new-comer to the industry but your partners have been around for 30 or more years. How much do you lean on them for advice and how open are they to new perspectives? And how does the combination between the old school and new school work?
SF: Well, I think it’s a great combination. Like I said, I did grow up in the industry but started working full-time five years ago. It gives me a great advantage to have people like my father who have been doing it for 30 years and some of the other partners involved help teach me something new every day.
I’ve learned some of the older school ways of doing things that are time tested and true and then bring forward some of the new concepts, new architectural concepts, marketing strategies, and design trends to what we do – it’s a great merger of two schools of thought.
BBH: What do you think about the proliferation of townhouse developments across the city?
SF: I think it’s great. I think there’s not enough of the townhome product in the city of Toronto. And I think there’s a lack of supply of truly fantastic, contemporary urban towns.
I think it’s a great alternative way of life. People want to be close to downtown but they still want a house, and a townhome gives them a different option from a condo. From an affordability standpoint it’s still cheaper than a single family home.
There’s a strong demand for product like what we’re building, which is more of a contemporary-modern look.
BBH: Tell us a bit about what Reserve Properties has going on at the moment.
SF: Right now we’ve got 11 active developments in various stages throughout the GTA and surrounding area.
We’re just selling a project in The Beaches right now, which is a great project called Bellefair – we’re more than 90% sold out there and we launched that [a couple of months ago]. We recently launched a project called Motif ago and we’re now about 65% sold out. Both have been well-received.
So we’ve got a lot of exciting new things on the go and a lot in the pipeline and I think you’ll start to see our name a lot more. We’ve really made an effort over the last two and a half years to acquire some great sites, and you’re going to see us bring those to market over the next 6-12 months.
BBH: What does the future hold for Reserve Properties?
SF: It’s about continuing to do what we enjoy doing. The great thing is that we’re fortunate to have the luxury of being in the position to choose the types of projects that work for us and can focus our common energy on what makes us happy.
And it’s not about becoming the next Tridel or Menkes, but continuing to work on new projects that are cool from an architectural standpoint and that add value to neighbourhoods. We don’t take the approach of trying to fit the square peg into the round hole. We try to look at an area and see how to help that area evolve. That’s what we enjoy doing: building projects that both the residents love living in and that the community is happy to have part of their lives and neighbourhood.
Our goal is to keep doing projects that make us happy and that enhance communities. Ultimately, we want to do more great projects rather than just more projects in general.
Thanks to Mr. Fenton for taking the time to chat with us!