May 11, 2011 
This week in Buzz Talk we caught up with Gil Blutrich, President of Skyline International Developments. Skyline is the force behind (among other developments) a growing network of “destination communities” that connect downtown Toronto to cottage country for fun all-year-round.

Gil told us about what we should know about his Deerhurst Summit Lodges project, the differences between developing projects here and in Israel, and how a guy with four golf courses could possibly be lousy at golf.

BuzzBuzzHome: How did you come to work in the development industry?

Gil Blutrich: More than twenty years ago I started as a real estate agent back in my hometown near Tel Aviv in Israel, and two years after that, I started my own brokerage. A few years later I sold the brokerage and started a development company called Mishorim. In 2007, Mishorim became a public company in Israel. But before that, in 1998, I arrived in Toronto in order to diversify my portfolio – I didn’t want all my eggs to be in one basket. I decided to invest in an economy that is non-synergetic with the Israeli economy. Since then I’ve been engaged in developing projects, getting into the hospitality industry, and in pure real estate.

BBH: What should people know about the Deerhurst Summit Lodges project?

GB: Deerhurst Summit Lodges represents a true four season resort village. It’s a 107 year-old property and so there is a great history involved with the resort. In a very unique way it combines everything from skiing activities in the winter to golf and fishing and boating in the summer.

Another reason that Deerhurst is attractive for Skyline is its location. It’s a three minute drive from the beautiful town of Huntsville, Ontario, which is considered the capital of Muskoka. We believe that our guests and future residents will enjoy being in such close proximity to the infrastructure offered by Huntsville. Over $90 million has been invested in infrastructure at the property itself, too, resulting in us having a landing strip, two golf courses – one of which is considered among the finest in Ontario – and a full waterfront which connects us by water to Huntsville.
BBH: So what’s your favourtite activity at Deerhurst? Are you a golf guy?

GB: [Laughs] I own four golf courses and I’m still a very lousy golfer! What I like most is boating and exploring the area – in winter by dogsled and in summer on a dirt bike. There are phenomenal trails all over the region. Another thing that I like about the property is that it’s elevated, meaning the views are stunning. The property makes possible more than 50 different outdoor activities, year round – there’s just so much to do.

BBH: Is it the same sort of set-up at Port McNicoll and Horseshoe?

GB: Well, what Skyline is trying to build is a network of mixed-use properties between downtown Toronto, Georgian Bay, Simcoe County, and Muskoka. These mixed-use resort villages – which we call ‘destination communities’ – are fully interconnected, meaning if you’re a resident at Deerhurst, you have full access to Horseshoe and Port McNicoll (which, with 6 and a half miles of shoreline, is considered the largest waterfront development in southern Ontario).

And there’s the connection to the city – The Pantages Hotel and The Cosmopolitan Hotel and now the King Edward Hotel, for example – which means we’re creating a net of holistic lifestyle properties all joined through the SkyLife Program, which is a private club membership that our residents get along with their real estate. The program covers their entire lifestyle – year round!

BBH: So what exactly is the SkyLife Program?

GB: I always explain it by comparing it to Club Link, which is, in a way, a vertical, golf-only version of SkyLife. If you’re a member of Club Link you have access to many golf courses. What we’re creating is a horizontal club, meaning it’s not just golf, it’s access to sailboats and fishing boats, adventures for kids, access to our spas, etc. Part of what’s unique is that all equipment is provided: from skis to golf clubs. In other words, with SkyLife, you don’t need to own a fishing boat to go fishing on a nice summer day. You just need to call us and everything is taken care of. It’s really built for families. For every family member there’s a great activity – or many! – that they can pursue. And again, it’s all year round.

There’s also a real estate aspect, too. Members have a right of first refusal for every real estate offering that Skyline brings to market. It’s also connected to the International Club Network meaning that we have reciprocal agreements with 200 private clubs worldwide, so that if you’re a member of SkyLife you have access to great clubs in cities and in the countryside across the U.S., Asia and Europe.

BBH: How is the process of developing and refurbishing mixed-use resort properties different from say, an urban condominium project? 

GB: Most of the condos we see in say, downtown Toronto, are literally vertical communities. We’re building horizontal communities, which, right away, reduces our amount of risk. Secondly, in every condominium project, the developer needs to spend millions to build amenities suitable to the lifestyles of the prospective owners. At our destination communities the amenities are largely already there. So the real estate is sold with no so-called ‘frills’, which in turn keeps the condo fees down.

BBH: Do you have a favourite spot to vacation internationally?

GB: [Laughs] My wife complains that when we go to our own resorts it’s in fact not a vacation at all! But honestly, if I can choose to go anywhere, I go to a Skyline resort. They’re just these unique natural treasures. It’s a hard experience to duplicate – you know, God isn’t building any more ski hills north of Toronto. . .  There’s no reason for me fly somewhere (burning a huge amount of fuel and wasting time on a plane), when I could stay here and enjoy what our beautiful province has to offer. Plus it helps our own economy, too!

BBH: What’s on the horizon for Skyline? Any particularly exciting projects coming up? What are the next steps for your company?

GB: Well, Skyline will continue to grow strategically. We’re looking for mixed-use properties that have both the cash flow for operations and the potential for real estate development. We’re always looking to enhance our lifestyle properties.

BBH: You mentioned that your career began in Israel, what are some of the differences between developing real estate here versus in Israel?

GB: Israel is, of course, geographically small. So every piece of real estate in Israel is in high demand, which creates a different dynamic in the marketplace. Another difference is that the bureaucracy in Israel is also much worse than here in Canada. Getting approvals, for example, is much more difficult. In Canada I was pleased to find that municipalities and city officials look at developers as a positive force. In Israel the relationship is, I’d say, different.

Overall, if I had to judge the two companies I manage – the one in Israel versus the one here in Canada – I’d say I prefer the process here. There’s just a huge difference between the two business cultures – though I do think that one day Israel will be much more organized than it is now – though this might take a few more decades. After all, Canada is an older and more established country.

BBH: What, apart from your current gig, is your dream job?

GB: I don’t know if I have a specific dream job. . . I think that any job that allows you to wake up in the morning happy and full of energy is a dream job. What’s important is that you enjoy what you do.

BBH: And you clearly enjoy yours. . .

GB: [Laughs] It’s demanding and there’s no shortage of stress but yes, I enjoy every moment of what I do.

Our thanks to Gil for taking the time to speak with us!

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