Today we’re buzzing with Aaron Brown, Executive Vice President at Norstar Group. The family-owned company has developments spread across the GTA and plans for more are in the works.
Aaron spent the first part of his career working in finance before making the jump and joining his father in land development in 2000. His passion for land development is only matched by his love of Toronto.
BuzzBuzzHome: What gets you excited about real estate development?
Aaron Brown: Our company, Norstar, is a family business. I grew up with my dad talking about real estate; it was always his passion. Consequently, being around it as a kid, it became a big part of my life and my passion. To be able to make an impact on the city that we live in is exciting. To be able to re-gentrify areas or locations. To be able to enhance an existing community. To be able to redevelop the landscape.
BBH: When you were first getting involved with the business, was it always something that you knew you’d be doing for your whole life?
AB: When I finished school I went into the investment and finance industry on Bay Street. I wanted to go out and do something on my own to gain some experience outside of the family business. I work on Bay Street for about 12 years. I developed an understanding of the financial markets. Then I joined my dad in the business full time around 2000.
BBH: Do you think getting an understanding of the financial markets has helped you in the development industry?
AB: Absolutely. Being a developer, you’re always concerned about the economy and how it will impact purchasers for condominium units. We also run a retail/industrial portfolio as well.
BBH: What’s so appealing about the neighbourhood that your Portrait development is in?
AB: It’s got a rich history. As we get older, homeownership becomes more challenging. Providing a nice mid-rise building in the area where a lot of people have spent their entire lives, it gives them an opportunity to stay in the neighbourhood. They can still frequent the stores and restaurants, the bank where they have an established relationship. To provide people with a wonderful home that they can be comfortable in is exciting for us.
That corridor along Sheppard Avenue also has really been re-gentrified over the last ten years. The whole strip will be mid-rise and high-rise buildings.
BBH: Can you tell us about the amenities at Portrait?
AB: There’s a number of different things. The terraces are a major attraction at this project. It’s a connection with the outdoor element. That’s been a really growing trend not only in condominium construction but in new homes as well. You hear about the concept of the “staycation” and people really going all out with their backyards. This is the same concept on a smaller scale. A lot of the units that are south facing have really beautiful, large terraces where residents can use the gas line for a barbecue and the water line to connect a hose and water plants. You can create that outdoor space that I think is really important to people.
We’ve also carved out a space in the building for a potting room where there’s a drain and a hose basin. You can bring in soil from the garden centre and get your plants together in an area built to withstand some of the mess that goes along with gardening.
We’ve got a pet spa, a great room with beautiful furniture and a flatscreen TV that has a southerly view, a card room, and a full kitchen and servery that leads into a dining room. There’s a gym, a yoga room, and two change rooms with steam showers.
BBH: Where’s Norstar headed in the next few years?
AB: At the corner Dufferin and Rutherford, we’ve got a site that we’re going to be developing for two towers of residential condomiuniums. Right now, the City of Vaughan has done an amendment to their official plan and we have a designation there. That official plan amendment was appealing by other stakeholders across Vaughan so it’s been tied up with the OMB. What we’d have to do is re-zone the property, which we will do but don’t want to do it until the issues with the official plan are settled. We’re happy with our designation in the official plan. It permits us to develop what we feel will be an exceptional community.
We also have a site in Markham at Highway 48 and Castlemore. It will be two towers with 500 units and 60,000 square feet of retail. We’re just tidying up the site plan agreement right now. Hopefully in 2013 we’ll be going to a sales program there.
BBH: Why do you feel so confident, as a builder in the GTA, that the city is going to continue growing rapidly?
AB: I was reading a few articles in Toronto Life about immigration to the city. There’s such a diversity of people coming here and they’re young and have incredible skills. Canada and Toronto are such attractions for people globally. We have so much to offer here in terms of quality of life and the ability to set down roots. If you’re a young person you can build a family. If you’re older, you can move your family here and raise them here. People continue to want to come to Canada and Toronto.
BBH: What do you prefer: a day spent in the office or a day spent visiting your sites?
AB: I enjoy being in the office and feeling like I’ve got my fingers on the pulse of what’s going on here, but everytime I go out of the office I seem to learn something new. Whether it’s a new development that’s coming unrelated to us or talking to people on our sites, it always seems to be a positive experience.
BBH: What’s your favourite sport?
AB: I played basketball as a kid in high school for many years. I love the Raptors, although they haven’t done so well lately. I love going down to a basketball game with my kids or with my dad. Basketball games are more of an intimate affair than a football game or baseball game. There’s less people and you’re closer to the action. I always had a real affinity for it.
Thanks for buzzing with us Aaron!