Josh White is general manager of development of Dream Development.
Tell me a little about Dream and the company’s presence in the Calgary market?
White: Dream is a Canadian-based real estate company with more than $15 billion of assets in North America and Europe. We have several lines of business, including our global office REIT, Canadian office and industrial REITs, and development arm for commercial and residential properties primarily in Ontario and the Prairies.
We build everything from single-family homes to 80-plus-storey high rises.
In Calgary, we have a large industrial presence as well as greenfield residential and commercial land. The biggest single asset in Calgary is our Providence lands, which comprise over 1,600 acres adjacent to the new southwest ring road.
Can you explain what the Providence project is all about, what it will encompass and the timeline for the project?
White: Providence truly is one of our crown jewel projects. Last year, we received our city approvals for over $40 million in infrastructure to proceed with development. This approval comprises the first 400-plus acres for residential and commercial development.
There has been a long hiatus between the time its neigbouring communities of Evergreen and Bridlewood completed development in the mid-2000s to the development of Providence, due to the absence of this leg of the ring road, which will provide access to the site upon its completion in 2020.
In the planning for Providence, we examined deeply what kind of community we want to build here and how consumer demands are shifting into the next generation. We looked at every era of community development in Calgary and are taking the best characteristics of each era; trying to incorporate them all into this place. In Providence, that means more pedestrian-oriented, tree-lined streets typical of older communities, while still ensuring the conveniences that makes newer communities highly livable.
Providence is not a lake community; all the elements of community itself must be the amenity – especially the retail and mixed-use town centre. We want the town centre not to be a traffic-congested, parking-lot dominated place you feel you begrudgingly must go to meet your day-to-day needs, but a place you can walk to, where you want to be to interact with your neighbours, where you feel connected to the social life of the neighbourhood, and can enjoy high quality public spaces.
We anticipate breaking ground later in 2019, with the first show homes opening in 2021.
Tell us about your background and connections with the city, and has that made it easier to navigate the regulatory process when it comes to development?
White: I’m an urban planner by education and profession. Prior to working at Dream, I was senior policy adviser for Mayor Naheed Nenshi from 2010 to 2015. I volunteered for Nenshi’s campaign very early on, working on policy related to planning, development and transportation, mostly just for fun, not having any notion that he could actually win.
Well, we all know how it turned out. Days after the 2010 election, he asked whether I would join his staff. So, I sort of ended up working in politics by accident, but it was an incredibly interesting and rewarding experience. I worked primarily on planning and development issues in the mayor’s office and gained a deep understanding of how the regulatory system functions.
Once at Dream, this understanding was helpful in navigating through the highly complex approvals processes, particularly growth management. I became heavily involved with industry members and city staff in helping shape a sensible decision-making framework for growth planning. We have been successful in achieving infrastructure and land use approvals to proceed with our Providence development.
What is the city doing to make Calgary more investment friendly and what more can be done in that regard?
White: Probably to no one’s surprise, our industry often complains about various city processes, policies and regulations. The truth is that the City of Calgary has put a lot of focus and resources toward improving processes with the goal to make the city more investment friendly. This ranges from how business licences and small building permits are processed, all the way to the largest-scale and complex development projects in the city.
It has taken some time to see measurable improvements in the approvals processes for large, complex projects, but it’s happening now.
Looking forward, the biggest thing the City of Calgary can do is to dramatically simplify its policy framework related to planning and development. There’s a large amount of inertia from 40-plus years of policy development and it can do a lot of work, collaboratively with the development and building industry, as well as with communities, to cut down on the regulatory burden. I strongly believe better outcomes would result.
When you look at the real estate market now in Calgary – residential and commercial – what are your thoughts about where it’s at and where it’s going in the near future?
White: The economic slowdown has taken its toll on the residential and commercial market, there’s no question about that. However, the industry here in Calgary is adapting well.
I believe the key to success will be to differentiate and work hard to anticipate trends in how people will want to live, work and shop into the future. Not only has the slowdown been disruptive, but new technologies will be as well. For instance, forecasting the future of bricks and mortar retail and its role in the marketplace in the age of e-commerce is an interesting puzzle, especially when you’re going out and planning community retail centres, like we are. It seems clear that bricks and mortar retail will never go away, people actually like to get out of their house from time to time, but I think the integration of technology in those experiences will also become more prevalent.
Another key to success is location. The best locations for various types of assets and developments will continue to thrive. In the case of Providence, we feel it is an A+ location in the region and are very confident in its potential.
– Mario Toneguzzi for Calgary’s Business