Canderel-Stoneridge Equity Group Inc.: Developing Canada's Skyline and Standards

Fall 2010 - The Canderel Group of Companies has been a major player in Canada’s real estate and development markets since its founding in 1975. During that time, the company has been involved in more than 150 business ventures throughout the nation. By growing its reputation for smart business choices and successful projects, Canderel has been able to expand from its main office in Montreal, Quebec, to include branches in Ottawa and Toronto, Ontario, Vancouver, British Columbia, plus Dallas, Texas. What hasn't changed is the dedication to integrated, award-winning developments.

An Uncharted Process

Ben Rogowski, the vice president and general manger of Canderel-Stoneridge Equity Group Inc. (CSEG), Canderel’s residential development arm, has been with CSEG since 2002. Thus, Rogowski has been part of the company's increasingly large-scale mixed-use projects. Recently, CSEG added a new name to its list of innovative projects: The Aura Condominiums. Located in the College Park area of downtown Toronto, Aura Condominiums “has a few different components. It has a retail component below-grade, with 122 retail condominiums – typically small units that have direct underground access into the existing retail on the block, as well as the College Park subway station. Additionally, there are three levels of retail above-grade. Bed Bath & Beyond will occupy an entire floor – 55,000 square feet – plus there will be smaller restaurant tenants, Bank of Montreal, and a large retailer who we are working with for the entire 55,000 square feet on the third level,” states Rogowski.

The residential portion of the project sits on top of the retail podium. “It will be the tallest residential building in Canada, and one of the largest in North America. There will be 931 units upon completion. What separates this project from others is the 75-floor structure, offering almost 1.3 million square feet of area. Compared to other projects that are 60 to 70 floors in height and have half that area, it’s very dense,” Rogowski reveals.

The Aura Condominiums broke ground in January of this year and will be completed in several phases.

“The retail will be delivered in the middle of 2012, and then, while the retail is operational, construction of the tower will be ongoing above it and scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2013,” Rogowski explains.

However, before construction began, a certain amount of space had to be sold to ensure the project would be successful. “In Toronto, construction lenders require a significant number of presales before construction can commence. We’re a conservative company and our internal requirements are much higher than the industry. We sold and/or leased in excess of 90 percent of the project prior to commencing construction. Our philosophy on pre-sales has served us and our partners well in the past.” says Rogowski.

One aspect of the building that is quite captivating is the penthouse on the 75th floor. “We’re offering the top floor of the building as a single penthouse unit totaling 11,300 square feet. It presents an opportunity for someone to own a dream house in the sky like none other,” Rogowski foresees.

Another attractive aspect is the building’s above-code additions. “When we started the design process, sprinklers weren’t required by Toronto building code, but we insisted on being proactive and built them into our design to ensure the safety of all of our purchasers” Rogowski shares.

To assure all aspects of the project exceed CSEG’s standards, the company augmented its comprehensive in-house land assembly, design and construction management capabilities with professional consultants dedicated to quality control. “Typically we've coordinated the entire process on our own. But on this project we brought in a third-party construction manager, just to give it another layer of expertise,” Rogowski explains, referring to the unprecedented size and structure of the Aura Condominiums.

Completing a Vision

Between the building’s height and connection to pre-established entities like other below-grade retail spaces and the subway station, the Aura Condominiums are a new type of construction for Toronto. “The sheer scale of the project is a challenge, and obtaining financing was a challenge. When we commenced sales it was the Spring of 2008, and over the first four or five months we quickly sold 800 units, so we were in a position where we could start discussing details with construction lenders,” Rogowski remembers. “That took us to September 2008, which was unfortunate timing given that the financial markets were in turmoil. We took a step back at that point and worked with our key lender, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, to tailor the package to successfully apply for financing. Going for a $300-plus million loan was a first in Canada for a residential development. We ended up with 10 banks in the syndicate, which is by far the largest number for any project in the country. Our conservative approach to development coupled with our risk adverse nature proved to be extremely useful.”

With such a huge project and so much money at stake, the City of Toronto was a little hesitant at first. “We went to the city and applied for the 75-floor building, and the city was initially opposed to the height.’ We suggested that we bring in five well-known, first-class architects from North America and let them critique it and whatever suggestions they come up with, we will build into our design so the city can rest assured,” says Rogowski. “It’s the first project in the province where a design review panel was included as part of the approval process at the urging of the developer, and the city is talking about making it a requirement going forward for large buildings.”

The panel was comprised of local architects Rene Menkes, Bruce Kuwabara and Eberheard Zeidler, two international architects, Jon Pikard and Josh Chaiken, as well as city officials and CSEG’s architects, Graziani + Corazza. After the review process, CSEG received the go-ahead signal from the city. Completing this building is more than just finishing a historic development in the city, it completes a long-term goal. “We started developing on this block in early 2000s when we acquired a piece of land on Bay Street. Since then we built a 51-floor tower and a 45-floor tower, known as College Park 1 and College Park 2, and this is the third and final phase, even though each project was distinct with different owners; it was all part of our vision,” says Rogowski.

Now that the College Park project is completed, CSEG will have to work hard to top this job. “This is as big as we will get in one building. I’m sure everyone will tell you a building this large is high-risk/high-reward, not something everyone has the stomach for. Even we prefer to do smaller, more bite-sized projects, but this was a unique opportunity,” Rogowski reflects.

Regardless of its future projects’ sizes, CSEG has shown it can set new standards, building on foundations that have a positive impact not only the city's aesthetics, but also its policies. With its proven team and track record, and its partnerships reinforced by an attention to long-term details, Canderel-Stoneridge Equity Group will continue pulling together all disciplines to establish innovative projects that truly push the boundaries and represent a bright future of development.