In this edition of Buzz Talk we’re buzzing with Robert Fung, President and Founder of the The Salient Group.
Having been named to the the city’s most powerful list on several occasions, Robert is one of the most influential business men in Vancouver. Robert and The Salient Group have built a reputation for restoring heritage buildings and re-developing the interiors into new condo developments.
We chat with Robert about the appeal of heritage buildings, the importance of community, and what makes a great cup of coffee.
BBH: You’ve got a reputation restoring the city’s heritage buildings. What draws you to heritage buildings and restoration projects?
Robert Fung: Less the building, more everything to do with the projects: the area, the building itself. I like doing modern new buildings in the heritage context — of joining them together or adding on to them. I love the people that are drawn to the projects, the types of businesses in the area. The whole package. It’s a very different vibe altogether
BBH: These projects have generated a lot of buzz. What do you think excites people about restoration and heritage developments?
RF: Number one is that they’re different. The projects tend to be a little bit intimate. Even with Trapp and Holbrook –which is a 20 storey building — it has individual character.
The buildings we did in Gastown had very unique floor plans. So, you end up with some of the old character with new buildings. So, all the systems are brand new. They have a totally different feel that’s very identifiable. In Gastown when someone says “I live in the garage building”, people know that building. You get an identity.
When they own it, there’s such a strong sense of identity. And it’ll be the same in New West with Trapp and Holbrook. There is only one building that looks and feels like that.
BBH: In 2011, the Salient group won an Outstanding Achievement award at Heritage BC’s annual ceremony. How important is community when you’re developing a new project?
RF: When we’re doing a project, the community is the important part. We’re introducing a whole series of new members into that community. We spend a lot of time educating potential buyers on what the advantages of the community are. We also spend time educating the community on what the attributes of the building are. It’s really important for people to understand that our projects are members of the community. We always strive to be good members of the community right out of the gate.
BBH: The Salient Group has built a name for itself in Gastown. What drew you to New Westminster for Trapp &Holbrook?
RF: There are very few downtowns in the Lower Mainland that actually have the history. Gastown was the original downtown of Vancouver. And downtown New Westminster was the original downtown of New West. So, it has character similar to Gastown. It’s got old architecture and all this dynamic growth that’s happening right now. We’re very drawn to the energy that’s flowing back into that area and the energy that was always there.
BBH: What drew you to the Trapp and Holbrook building specifically?
RF: It’s gorgeous. That’s number 1. It’s among the most beautiful buildings in the lower mainland. It has this amazing façade.
It’s also got a great location. The area is going through a great deal of change. Lots of energy is there. People in New West are very warm and welcoming and are really nice. It’s an emerging area but an area that has embedded character and style and a lot of the same types of people that were drawn to Gastown are being drawn to that area. It’s creatively driven with a lot of youthful energy. It’s got a great vibe.
BBH: Are there any areas of Metro Vancouver that you haven’t had the chance to work in yet that you’d like to?
RF: Well, I think, we’ll continue to be very urban. There are a lot of municipalities in the lower mainland that have urban centres. We’ll work from the urban centre. That’s where I get excited. That’s where we like working. It may not always be heritage associated.
BBH: You’ve got a degree in Anthropology. Has it influenced your work at all?
I think it’s less related to the degree than it is to the interest. What drew me to anthropology was the interest in how people live. The way people choose to live and have chosen to live in the past. We can learn from that. And, also revitalizing an area that at one point was vibrant and has, for some reason, deteriorated.
In Anthropology, I learned a lot about about the evolution of the city. People start in one place and grow away from it, and then, eventually, they need to grow back to that place. There’s energy, infrastructure, and architecture in those places that we can re-utilize. I find that exiting.
BBH: You have three little girls. How do you balance a busy schedule with family?
RF: My family is really important, and I don’t claim to have it balanced. It’s really important that I spend as much time with them as I can. My business is my fourth child. It’s a matter of spreading it around. Making sure each gets their dues. Which means none get 100 per cent of what they deserve.
BBH: You seem to have your thumb on some of the great coffee shops in Vancouver. What do you look for in a good cup of coffee?
RF: I drink Americanos. I switched over when I found it has less caffeine because I’m addicted to coffee and I find out I drink less coffee when it’s Americanos.
What are you favourite coffee joints?
RF: Coffee bar is my favourite in Gas Town and Milano. Those are the two key places.
Thanks for buzzing with us Robert!