Today we’re buzzing with Frank Giannone, head honcho at the highly acclaimed FRAM Building Group.
You may recognize the FRAM name from the many developments over at the Shops at Don Mills (Flaire Condos, REFLECTIONS, LivLofts) and the amazing complete community they’ve developed out in scenic Port Credit.
Frank has thirty years of experience in the industry under his belt so all you development rookies take note: this is a guy who knows what he’s talking about. We chat with Frank about Flaire Condos, community building and how to distinguish a great olive oil from a mediocre olive oil.
BuzzBuzzHome: FRAM came from humble beginnings and is now a widely recognized international developer. Tell us about the company’s interesting history.
Frank Giannone: We started in ’81 when I got out of school. I joined my father and we set up the home building business and our business primarily through the 80s was low rise. When we got into the 90s, we started doing different product, a few midrises.
We moved down to the US when things were really flat here in Ontario, so we set up a separate division there. One of the things that we started doing in the US that we translated here was we started doing bigger projects rather than a building, we started doing communities.
BBH: You’re working on Flaire Condos at Shops at Don Mills. Tell us about why the Shops are so unique and why Flaire is a good fit for that project.
FG: The Shops are unique because they’re a throwback. We’ve brought the indoor mall outside. Everyone knows Bloor West Village and Yorkville are strong places to shop. It’s not like these places aren’t already there, we just figured out how to do it from scratch. We spent a fair amount of time researching with Cadillac Fairview to figure out how best to do it, how the stores react to being outdoors and how customers react to being there. People want to be out there. It will be busy until Christmas and from the early spring on. It’s a wonderful place to be out on the street.
The key thing from a commercial point of view are the restaurants. The restaurants assure the stores that people will always be out on the streets. Those places are hopping! They’re places that people want to be. We even have a couple of new restaurants are coming in as well. You’ve also got your food stores — McEwan and Metro — so that’s another reason why people are coming. You need an anchor. It used to be you’d have an Eaton’s but right now the anchor is the food stores.
When you do these communities, what really makes them work well is the synergy between the residential and commercial. Our people get the benefit of having everything at their door. That puts people on the street and makes it a real people place. It snowballs from there.
It’s also a very interesting building. It has got a real character to it and there’s a range of unit types that will address people that are in the area and new people who want to live in the area.
BBH: How do you choose what restaurants go into a community like this?
FG: Cadillac Fairview has a lot of contacts all across Canada. They know the restaurants, they know the ones that might be interested in coming to the community and they know the ones they want in the community. They get the message out to people they work with and then they start selecting who fits in. They’re a big player in that field. The nice thing about them is they’re patient and go about it incrementally.
BBH: You’ve done quite a few project in Mississauga and Port Credit to be more specific. What drew you to this area?
FG: I live down there! When we heard the property was for sale, I decided I wasn’t going to commute to work everyday and see someone else building there. It was a big play for us. It was the biggest thing we’ve ever done and we were successful in bidding against a whole bunch of other people.
It’s given us the opportunity to look at some things that we like. The main street was always there but we had the opportunity to enhance it and get people down there. Some people don’t like the fact that we’ve brought so many people down there, but the majority of people like what we’ve done there.
BBH: FRAM is known for its sustainability initiatives in its developments. Can you tell us a bit more about some of the initiatives?
FG: Our sustainability work goes way back into the 80s. It’s carried on over the years and now with the high rises we’ve already done a LEED Gold commercial building. The North Shore Condominium Residences in Port Credit is a candidate for LEED Silver. Three of the retirement homes that we own have geothermal systems in them.
BBH: We’ve heard your family owns a hotel in Italy and you produce olive oil there. How do you tell great olive oil from bad olive oil?
FG: I can tell by taste, but that of course requires you to open it up. You want to look for extra virgin. Extra virgin is what comes out when you barely squeeze the olive. We’ve got 80 trees in Italy and they’re all one specific oil type and the first time we ran the olives through it was pretty good, comparable to something you’d get in Canada.
What was recommended to us was we mix it with a different type of olive and it’s amazing how much you can taste the difference. We get about 300 litres of olive oil out of the 80 trees. We bring about half of it over here and bottle it for our friends and family.
BBH: So this isn’t a commercial venture?
FG: Nope. It has the logo of our hotel on it. If you want to check it out go to torrefiore.com. It’s really special!
BBH: How long has your family owned the hotel?
FG: We opened it a year and a half ago and it took us three years to develop, so we’ve owned it for a little less than five years. It’s an old fortified farm compound that goes back to the 1560s.
Thanks for buzzing with us Frank! If you want to hear more from Mr. Giannone, check out our Five Questions segment with the man himself.