His father’s company, The Cortel Group, has an ambitious hand in creating Vaughan’s new downtown core. EXPO City is the largest and most impressive urban project in Vaughan’s history. Peter has many goals for this project that are aimed at the desire for a pedestrian-friendly downtown core, easy transit for commuters, and much more.
We chat with Peter about the pros of being one of the youngest guys in the room, Cortel‘s vision for Vaughan and why his mom’s cooking could beat any restaurant.
BuzzBuzzHome: When did you decide to become part of the family business?
Peter Cortellucci: I don’t really think it was a decision. It was more a lifestyle that I was brought into. Growing up my dad would take me to job sites and on drives to different properties to show me what he was a part of. He taught me that his business relationships and social relationships did not differ in the sense that he would always treat people with a high level of respect, building strong relationships with workers and clients alike. So when did I decide? It’s just something I always knew I wanted to get into. Not only me, but I have a lot of other family members in the construction and development business…
It’s kind of that old country Italian farming mentality. My family comes from a farming background in Italy and they would have lot’s of kids because it was essentially free labor. So we took that tradition over here. As soon as you can, have a few kids and get them over to the site. I realize not everyone get’s this opportunity and it’s something I am always thankful for and cherish.
BBH: You’re a fairly young VP of a very successful development company. Do you find your age gives you any insight into the market?
PC: Of course, it’s not just me behind the development company. Our team is a younger team but we also have a lot of experience over the last 40 years as my father and different individuals in the business have been around for quite some time. I think that when you get to pair the young ideas with the experience of the older generations you really come up with something nice. It’s something that has been working really well for us.
A lot of times it’s a challenge. You walk into meetings and people see a younger guy (that’s why I try to keep a little bit of facial hair), but people realize that I am the first one to admit that I don’t know everything and that I’m willing to learn as much as I can. I think once somebody says they know everything, or they feel that they’ve reached a limit, there’s a problem.
BBH: Can you think of any situation where you felt like you might have had to prove yourself and succeeded?
PC: I think a lot of that just comes with patience. I know when we were launching the EXPO site here a lot of people were saying “What are you guys doing? You can’t do that.” Especially when I was presenting the project to people. They were saying “I don’t think this guys really knows what he’s talking about. He hasn’t been in this business very long. Maybe he doesn’t know what he’s doing.” Sure enough we were able to launch to great success and a lot of those same people are coming back and saying “Hey, you guys did a great job!” I’m not the type of person to say “Aren’t you the guy…” It’s not about that. You just have to be grateful for your success.
BBH: So, what is your vision for the EXPO development and why did you chose to undertake such a large project?
PC: EXPO was not just an overnight thought. This is something that have been in the works for over 20 years. It was something that my father had been working on before me and when I came into the company a few years back he told me to run with it and see what I could do. The vision came about in partnership with the City of Vaughan because they had originally intended this area to be a corporate centre.
They wanted there to be a lot of high-rise for employment while maintaining the industrial base that’s here. During that process funding for the extension of the TTC was announced. Once that happened I think everybody realized that this area deserved more than just commercial and employment-based uses. So instead the city turned around and said “Instead of a corporate centre, let’s build a metropolitan centre. Let’s build Vaughan’s downtown.”
EXPO was something that we had been working on with a residential focus for a number of years and once the subway was secured and the funding was in place we decided that EXPO was exactly what this area needed. It would be pedestrian friendly and have quick access to the TTC. I tell everybody that the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre (VMC) is a lot bigger than just EXPO. It’s the whole stretch of land from Creditstone to Highway 400 developed with the intent to better serve the residents of Vaughan.
BBH: From a consumer point of view, why do you think Vaughan is such an up-and-coming area?
PC: Vaughan, over the years, has grown a lot. It has a great employment base and a great residential base, but the focus on residential has been on low-rise. So there is a lot of great infrastructure to service the high-rise employment, the industrial base, and the low-rise residential sectors. What we are doing now is building the centre of the city. If you ask anybody from the GTA where they live, the majority of people say Toronto.
If you ask anybody from Vaughan where they live they’ll say Woodbridge, Maple, Kleinburg… They’ll just name the suburbs in the surrounding areas and towns. What Vaughan is doing now is creating an identity because nobody really says “I’m from Vaughan.” We’re looking at areas like Markham and Mississauga that have successfully built downtown cores and taking note of what they did successfully and where they made mistakes. We’re also looking to big cities such as New York and Chicago in the same way. We’re looking overseas to Europe. Cities that have been in existence for hundreds and thousands of years like Rome, Paris, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen. We’re looking at all these different areas, pulling out what is successful and bringing it into Vaughan.
Vaughan has a staff (politicians and Councillors) that all have the right philosophy and are all pushing for the development of an urban centre of today’s standards. One of the issues with the GTA is that developers have to build within the constraints of what is already there and you can’t really do a lot of creative or interesting things. With Vaughan we have a clean slate with all the infrastructure in place, a subway on it’s way, and a very transit and pedestrian-friendly development plan.
BBH: Tell me a little bit about why you chose architect A.J. Tregebov for this project.
PC: The process of choosing an architect was fairly intensive. They play such a fundamental role in the development. They are one of, if not the most hands on people on the project. In a nutshell, my dad is a bit of a history buff and Allan is a professor at the University of Toronto, also teaching a bit in Europe as well. They hit it off right away talking about history, civilizations past and how they’ve developed.
Myself, I really enjoyed the fact that he has a strong background in urban design. In the past he has worked on tonnes of projects with a focus on urban design and he get’s it. When you’re choosing an architect you really need to share a lot of the same philosophies about what you want to do with an area. His background in urban design really helps us accomplish the type of thing we’re trying to achieve here – which is very pedestrian and community focused. That was one of the number one selling features for me.
BBH: What about the commercial component of EXPO?
PC: We’ve had tonnes of people asking us about this. We have list of hundreds of people interested in the units. We obviously want to make sure the residents of the community are looked after. We want to have a supermarket, a small bank branch, a cafe. we don’t want anything that’s kind of… ugly, or like that dirty coffee shop around the corner.
We want really nice cafes where you can sit down, relax, and have an espresso. In the next year or so we will go through the list of people that we have, being very selective of what goes in. It will be a lot of stuff geared toward the residents and will be a very pedestrian friendly area so lots of nice boutiques, cafes, and restaurants.
BBH: Where do you see the company in 10 years?
PC: I think we’re going to carry on doing what we’re doing. We’ve got a lot of exciting projects coming up. Not only high-rise but some low-rise too. One of our philosophies is to create smart and sustainable growth. Really giving back to the community because it is our duty. As a developer you have to be aware of what you’re doing to the environment and really have concern for that. So we’ve got a few projects coming up in the short term that you guys will probably see. But I don’t wanna give away too much. They’re just around the corner.
BBH: Tell us about some of your philanthropic work.
PC: One thing about the Cortellucci’s is that we were brought up to give back. My dad tells me stories about how they used to live on the farms back in Italy. How they would always save the best things for their friends and family. The best wine. The best animals they were raising. The never saved it for themselves. They always gave back. I think they brought those philosophies here. Being a developer you affect communities so much.
You want to be able to give back to those communities. We’ve donated to charities all across Canada and around the world. We’ve raised funds for the earthquake…we donate to things that are sentimental to us. For instance my dad was from Abruzzo where they had the earthquake a few years back so we raised money for that. A lot of the stuff we focus on is geared toward communities, children, and education.
BBH: Do you have a favorite charity?
PC: I have to be a little biased with that because my dad started a charity in early 2000 called the Universal Youth Foundation. It gives back strictly to children for educational purposes. Everything raised goes directly to the cause. That charity has recently worked with the York Regional Police and the Toronto Police Board to raise money for programs to get at risk youth off the streets and help them out as best they can. As a developer you look to the future and children are the future. It’s one of the things we really believe in.
BBH: Blackberry or iPhone?
PC: Definitely iPhone. Siri is my best friend. I’ve cheated though. I had an iPhone when it first came out and ended up losing it. I got a loaner phone that was a Blackberry and got hooked on BBM. But I quickly learned, got rid of the Blackberry and got the iPhone again.
BBH: Do you have a favourite restaurant?
PC: I still have to go back to the Italian heritage. I’m trying to convince my mom to open up a restaurant. She cooks for enough us anyway. We’re always entertaining and having people over so I have yet to find any food better than my mom’s. There are lots of great restaurants around the area but I would never choose them over my mom’s cooking.
Thanks for buzzing with us Peter!