Face it: when you think of Toronto condos, you think of the towers along the lake or the skyscrapers vying for the tallest in city title in the downtown core. But the head of Gairloch, a relatively new development company, is spearheading a different kind of construction.
Bill Gairdner cut his teeth in the building industry as Peter Freed’s right-hand-man. But the former VP of Development is out to make his own mark on the city through a mid-rise development in Roncesvalles Village: 383 Sorauren.
The lofts are already attracting plenty of buzz already so we thought it’d be a good idea for a one-on-one with Gairdner.
We chatted with him about his first beer with Freed, going solo in the business world and the best place to eat on Roncesvalles.
BuzzBuzzHome: How did you get started in the development business?
Bill Gairdner: It’s actually a funny story. I bought a condo in the King West neighbourhood in about 2004. The building that I happened to buy into was Peter Freed’s first condo project called 66 Portland. It was a really cool loft building. I moved in just as the building occupied.
One day I was in the elevator and a gentleman came in and punched in the penthouse code. I had read through all the media that the developer, whose name was Peter Freed, lived in the penthouse. So I asked him if, in fact, he was Peter Freed. I was picturing an older gentleman, but this was a mid-30s gentleman with a Yankees cap. I was quite surprised to see his age.
I asked if I could meet with him for a beer sometime to chat about the development. So he agreed and it took about six months of courtship and my bothering him to convince him to give me a job. I must say that I really admire Peter for taking a chance on hiring me and giving me the opportunity to learn and grow within his organization and alongside him as he grew into a more substantial developer in Toronto.
BBH: It’s a good thing you bought there.
BG: Exactly! When I bought, I think I paid $382 dollars a foot. All my friends said ‘You’re crazy, that’s way too much money.’ It was like a 500-square foot condo. I didn’t know much better either, but I said, ‘Sure, but I actually want to live in that building, I don’t care if I do well or not.’ Turns out a couple years later, I ended up selling it for $570 a foot. It worked out well in many ways.
BBH: What were you doing before your time at Freed?
BG: I had just recently graduated from university. I studied political science at the University of Western Ontario, which I enjoyed, but I was always keen to get into the business world. I had been pursuing a bunch of different developers in town and actually had a tough time getting a job. So I was working for a well-known cycling company, which was another one of my passions, called Cervelo Cycles located in Liberty Village. It was relatively close to 66 Portland at the time.
BBH: And you have a new firm now, called Gairloch?
BG: I actually started it in 2008, but I obviously spent the vast majority of my time working for Freed as VP of Development there.
BBH: And ‘Gairloch’ – is that a Scottish word? Is the there a story behind the name?
BG: There is. My great-grandfather owned a piece of property in Oakville. He was a well-known stockbroker at the time and also quite entrepreneurial. One of his requests in his Will when he passed was to donate his property to the town of Oakville. So that was called Gairloch Gardens.
I always respected his business success and his style of business so I decided to name my company after his property, and by way of that, him as well.
BBH: What was the process of starting your own company like?
BG: It was great. It was a big decision to leave Freed and to start out on my own, but I felt that it was the right time. And I was very keen to see if I had what it took to make things work in the development industry because it’s obviously not an easy business to get into. Yet I felt that I had acquired the tools that were necessary to develop my own condo projects. So that’s what I did.
BBH: What spurred that decision?
BG: That’s a challenging question. There are many variables. But the biggest component was just my wanting to put my own mark on the development business.
BBH: And 383 Sorauren is your first project?
BG: It is. Basically how it worked was, I’ve spent a lot of time in Roncesvalles, just poking around actually, looking for houses with my wife. And the housing stock over there is very, very expensive. Having spent a lot of time going up and down Sorauren, I was quite familiar with the neighbourhood as was my partner on the project, a gentleman named Martin Niro from Centrestone Urban Development. His main line of work is as a broker, he runs a brokerage out of Liberty Village called Icon 1 Realty.
I’d been working with Martin to find a site. And Martin called me one day in the summer and explained that he had found, through a contact of his, a prominent developer in the city, a site under contract and was going to drop the site because it was a little small for him. Martin had a close relationship with him and we decided we would do the site together.
BBH: How did you manage to get Peter Clewes on board? architectsAlliance tends to work on larger condo towers?
BG: I’m a big fan of Peter Clewes. I think he’s one of the most talented architects in the city. When I had the opportunity to work on this project, he was definitely one of my first choices. His firm, like you say, hasn’t done many mid-rise structures in the city and the handful that they’ve done, I’m actually very fond of.
I knew that these aren’t obviously as lucrative for his team as the larger contracts and buildings, but he was very keen to get involved as well. I think we share a lot of the same design ambitions and directions.
BBH: You mentioned you’d spent a lot of time in the Ronvesvalles neighbourhood. With that whole strip changing, what’s your favourite place to grab a bite to eat on Roncesvalles?
BG: My wife and I really like The Westerley. We’ve been there a few times and really enjoy going there. It’s got a great atmosphere and a really nice menu as well.
BBH: When will 383 Sorauren be opening?
We’re very excited as we move forward with 383 Sorauren. We’ll be opening to the public on Saturday, April 13th and we’ve already had a very high level of interest from the public.
Thanks for buzzing with us Bill!