Michoel Klugmann, Vice President of Lindvest, remembers living in New York City before gentrification hit the streets in some neighbourhoods. Some areas were run down, unsafe and uninviting. Then everything changed, with better municipal governance, updated city planning and modern architecture. Klugmann, fascinated by urban renewal and the effect it has on residents, decided to pursue a career in real estate development.
Lindvest is now one of the top developers in the GTA and is responsible for building thousands of homes across Southern Ontario. The company prides itself on its diversity — constructing contemporary high-rises in downtown Toronto and detached homes and townhomes in charming rural neighbourhoods.
We caught up with Klugmann to learn more about the developer’s high-profile communities (like B.streets condos and The Brownstones at Westown), along with the ingredients that make such developments successful.
BuzzBuzzHome: What were your favourite subjects when you were in high school?
Michoel Klugmann: My favourite subjects were actually language and history. I’ve always been fascinated with history and how people lived. I’m a fan of social studies because I’m interested in different environments and how peoples’ lives came to be: the places they lived, how they interacted with other people, their systems of governance and different societies in general. It’s a completely different culture today than it once was, yet what makes people tick remains constant.
BBH: When did you realize you wanted to start a career in the land development industry?
MK: I moved to Toronto roughly 15 years ago. Before that I lived in the States in a developing area in a quiet part of New Jersey. Then there was a rapid explosion of population growth — new communities were popping up, new infrastructure was put in place, new roads were being built and more families with children moved in.
One of the things that really made an impression on me was living in New York City. I grew up there and I remember it being very different from what it is today. I remember the city before Rudy Giuliani came in as mayor and before the streets were safe. It was an urban environment and it was vibrant, but you didn’t see people out on the streets. Then there was a movement to beautify the city and bring out the people through social and civic activity. A lot of that was accomplished through architecture and new ideas. It’s fascinating to me.
I’ve also travelled and been to places in the former USSR where they had depressing, barrack-style developments. There is a resulting bleakness in those cities and on peoples’ faces. So the way you present, plan and build a city can alter the mood of those who live there. I’ve always found that fascinating and wanted to become a part of it.
BBH: How does Lindvest fit into the GTA residential development market?
MK: We’re an established player and our roots are within the H&R Developments family company, which goes back more than 60 years. Our recent rebranding of Lindvest is a fresh take — we’ve looked at our projects and have asked ourselves: “What can we do differently? What are the challenges that we can address?” We’ve learned that it’s important to give people choice. You can’t fit everyone in the same box, because people want housing choices.
Lindvest projects have an edge and offer something that people can’t get elsewhere. When we talk to people, instead of asking if they like something, we’ll flip the question around and ask: “What would you like? What appeals to the way you live your life?” It’s often not what is commonly available. So we want to build communities that appeal to end users.
BBH: One of your really successful projects on the go right now is B.streets condos. How does it feel to see the project nearing completion?
MK: What highlights the rewarding feeling about B.streets is the speed of its completion. In fall 2010 we launched sales, in fall 2011 we had the construction ground-breaking, in fall 2013 we had a roof topping celebration and by fall this year most residents will be living in their new home. B.streets is a study in how to get it right and how to do it quickly.
There was a lot of thought involved in how to make the development part of the community. We received positive feedback on all sides, including many passersby. Whether you live in the building or not, you can see that it complements the neighbourhood. It’s not a neighbourhood that needs reinventing; it was a beautiful place to live before and has been residential for more than one hundred years. B.streets is today’s Annex.
In terms of multi-level residential buildings, nothing new has been built in this immediate neighbourhood in decades. There have been some renovations and low-rise buildings, but large new residential developments haven’t been built there in ages.
The other day I was nearby the site wearing my hardhat, and someone stopped me and asked if I was the builder. I braced myself and said yes, and then he thanked me, before continuing to walk past. Now that’s a rewarding feeling!
MK: The Brownstones at Westown is different and yet the same. It’s in a different location and is a different form of housing with a distinct look that appeals to a different market. It’s the same in that our company builds multiple styles of housing with varying designs. We’re responsive to the market and how people want to live.
With this project, we wanted to offer a product that gives residents their own front door. This is extremely important to some people who would rather not use an elevator to reach home. Many people also want their own parking space, which is not readily available in downtown Toronto. Every unit at Westown has its own front door and a designated parking space in the 416. We’re able to offer these features affordably, which is something people are really looking for and the response has been great.
BBH: What other new developments to you have in the pipeline?
MK: We’re launching Grand Cornell Brownstones now and the grand opening for the public is on March 22nd. It’s a similar project to The Brownstones at Westown (pictured below) but it’s located in Markham. Residents want a home they can afford in a location that has access to the 407 and other nearby amenities. The Markham Stouffville hospital is next door. We have a large thoughtfully-planned community there, with some phases built and many more to come, and the current stacked towns are a great fit for that community.
Right now we’re also working on a community in Aurora called Aurora Glen. It will launch later this year. It will offer a collection of detached homes with a smaller selection of townhomes that will be released at a later date. We’re also going to be offering a contemporary architectural elevation style in conjunction with a more traditional housing design. We think this is something the marketplace is craving right now.
We will also be releasing a new phase of 50-foot lots this spring for one of our current communities in Newcastle called Gracefields. The homes will range from approximately 1,650 to just over 3,100 square feet, and we’ve noticed that there is a huge demand for larger homes like this in the area.
BBH: We’re now a few months into 2014. What do you think the next 9 months will have in store for the Toronto new development market?
MK: The fact of the matter is — people want to live where we live [Toronto]. We offer stability, we welcome outsiders, the economy is strong and the environment is safe. If you look around the world, and you read the newspapers, you realize that we are a destination. We expect and certainly hope that it will stay that way.
It’s just a question of whether as an industry we can bring enough product to the market. As I mentioned before, people want variety and are looking for different forms of housing. We need an even mix of new high-rise, mid-rise and low-rise offerings. I think sales will be strong.
BBH: What’s your favourite place to have dinner in Toronto?
MK: My favourite place to have dinner is at home! I really try to have dinner with the kids as much as possible. We have a ritual where we have three questions that we each have to answer at the dinner table: the best thing that happened to us that day, the worst thing and the most interesting. This way we have participatory conversation, which is so important.