For over 25 years, David Choo has built thousands of new homes and condominiums throughout the Greater Ottawa area. An engineer by trade and an entrepreneur at heart, Choo combined his passion for business and home building to create Choo Communities, a full spectrum community developer and lifestyle brand. Consisting of Ashcroft Homes, Alavida Lifestyles and Envie Student, the Choo Communities portfolio includes everything from modern student housing communities to premier senior housing and retirement residences.
The company’s latest projects brings it to one of Ottawa’s most desirable neighbourhoods — Westboro. The elegant, four-storey Monocle is a luxury residence designed to break the traditional notions of condo living. Prospective homebuyers will have unprecedented opportunities to customize their home to suit their personal tastes and will enjoy access to a plethora of individually-chosen services and amenities.
We recently sat down with Choo to learn more about the developer, Choo Communities and Monocle Condos.
Livabl: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
David Choo: I’ve lived in Ottawa for about 45 years now after first coming here to attend school. I have a bachelor’s in Mathematics and Engineering from Carleton University, master’s in Systems Engineering from Carleton and an MBA from the University of Ottawa. While I’m an engineer by trade, I’ve always been an entrepreneur. I started my career in tech when I launched a company called Computational Methods Limited, which did numerical modelling.
L: How did you get into real estate development?
DC: When I sold my high tech holdings I had the opportunity to invest in some land in Ottawa and that’s when the real estate bug bit. I started building homes in the early 1990s and I’ve been in real estate ever since.
L: Ottawans probably know you best as the president of Ashcroft Homes. Tell us about Choo Communities and the companies associated with it.
DC: Choo Communities was created as a brand that represents a variety of lifestyles and includes Ashcroft Homes, Envie Student and Alavida Lifestyles. Since the company was founded in 1992, Ashcroft Homes has built thousands of homes across the city from Central Park at the Experimental Farm to Manhattan Square in Bells Corners. One of our latest projects is the reResidence in downtown Ottawa. It’s a luxury condo and it’s a very iconic project because it’s on Sparks Street and Queen Street overlooking the Parliament Precinct.
Alavida Lifestyles represents our premier retirement and senior communities, which offer an incredible array of services and amenities. And we recently launched Envie, our portfolio of modern student residences, starting with a building in Little Italy. We also have a site coming up in downtown Ottawa as well as one in Kingston near Queens University.
L: What is it about building homes that appeals to you the most?
DC: I’ve always had an interest in mechanical building and the technical aspects of designing a building. I find it very stimulating being a developer and taking a blank canvas like a piece of land, creating a lifestyle, and working closely with an architect to bring that vision to life.
L: Your latest project, Monocle Condos, is located in Ottawa’s Westboro neighbourhood. What sets Monocle apart from other developments in the city?
DC: If you ask the question: what makes the most desirable condo? Often times, the answer is not a high-rise building. Certainly, if you live in New York City it might be a high-rise building because that’s the nature of the city. But in a place like Westboro, or something like Rosedale in Toronto, if you poll the people, they’ll tell you that they want to be able to have the space of a bungalow, but be close to all the conveniences of the shops on Bloor Street.
You often hear people saying that they don’t want to downsize because you have to give up your wide open spaces and make sacrifices to your lifestyle. We’ve created a condo where you don’t have to do that. Monocle is the antithesis of that. The suites are extra large with wide open living spaces, room for dining tables, powder rooms and eight-foot deep balconies where you can reach out and touch the maples.
L: The initial renderings show a modern mid-rise design with a white façade, clean lines and large glass balconies. Can you walk us through the building’s architecture and describe the inspiration behind it?
DC: The building was designed in partnership with both Rod Lahey Architects and David Blakely Architect Inc. We took inspiration from the project’s location. It’s a premium site surrounded by trees and foliage, but still within proximity to the main street in Westboro. So we wanted to create a boutique, elegant four-storey building that blends well with the neighbourhood, but also takes advantage of the surrounding green spaces. To do that, we’ve created a glass building with wide balconies that act as an extension to your indoor living spaces. A spot where you can sit and relax in peace while living amongst the trees.
L: What can prospective homebuyers expect in terms of features, finishes and amenities?
DC: Homebuyers can expect to see premium standard features and finishes and meticulous detailing. Ten-foot ceilings, hardwood floors, and top-of-the-line Wolf and Sub-Zero appliance packages. We don’t think people will need to upgrade anymore from the standard packages, however, buyers have the opportunity to customize their homes. We expect some buyers will want to bring their own designers to help inject their personality and create their dream home.
The amenities are found on two separate floors. Ground floor amenities include a fitness centre with a sauna and whirlpool, yoga studio and party room. We also have a beautiful landscaped rooftop terrace where you can entertain friends and family while enjoying the panoramic views of the parkland setting.
One of the things that makes Monocle special is that it sits near one of our seniors’ building. This allows residents access to á-la-carte services. Everybody thinks of a concierge, but what about housekeeping? It’s not usually done because it’s too expensive. With Monocle, you have that option. We also offer dog-walking services, dry-cleaning and valet parking.
L: There’s been a lot of talk recently about how Ottawa’s active housing market is the ‘one to watch.’ In your opinion, what factors have contributed to the city’s strong real estate market?
DC: There’s a saying that the lower you drop the higher you rise. And Ottawa went through a downturn in the condo market for a few years, and now it’s coming back and rising faster because real estate in general is in an upward trend across the world.
We’ve got a growing population that’s at about 1 million people now, and we’re about to get our first LRT system this fall. Ottawa is also increasingly becoming a tech hub again. That, coupled with the fact that the federal government is a major employer, means the city benefits from steady job growth, strong job security, high salaries and excellent quality of living.
I also think there’s a shift in the desire for urban living in Ottawa. Employees in the tech industry don’t want to be working at a high tech park somewhere in suburbia — those days are gone. They want to work and live downtown, in an urban setting, where they can walk to cafes and restaurants to meet up with their friends and colleagues.
L: What are your future plans for Choo Communities? Are there any other areas in Ottawa — or beyond — that you’d like to develop in?
DC: I think the LRT is going to create enormous opportunities for development in Ottawa and we want to be a part of that. The city will continue to be a strong market for Choo Communities, so we’ve got a lot of exciting things on the horizon both across Ottawa and also across the country. We’re also looking to add another brand under Choo Communities that will focus on multi-family luxury rentals. That’s a market that we’re really excited about.