Morguard Investments Ltd.: Developing Sustainability, One Neighbourhood at a Time

Fall 2010 - Morguard Investments Ltd. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Morguard Corporation, an integrated real estate company. Morguard Investments established itself in the real estate equity market in 1975, building off its roots in the companies Morguard Investment Services Limited and Morguard Properties Limited, and the firm quickly began growing by leaps and bounds. It is now the investment and property management services firm for the Morguard Corporation, as well as managing assets for external organizations in the office, retail, industrial and residential classes.

Morguard Investments has backed some of Canada’s most notable projects throughout the country thanks to its more than 800 employees. In addition to its corporate head office in Mississauga, Ontario, Morguard Investments has regional offices in Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia; Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta; Ottawa, Ontario; Beloeil, Quebec; Winnipeg, Manitoba; and an American office in New York, N.Y.

An Emerging Urban Core

Geoff Nagle serves as Morguard Investments’ director of development for Western Canada. He is currently overseeing one of the organization’s most innovative projects: the LEED for Neighbourhood Development (LEED-ND) Gold mixed-use neighbourhood known as Uptown. Located at the hub of the major transportation networks serving southern Vancouver Island, Uptown is a catalyst project for the emerging urban core of Greater Victoria’s largest municipality, the District of Saanich.

“We’re taking what was a 226,000-square foot 1960s strip centre on an 18.76-acre site, and transforming it into a state-of-the-art sustainable urban mixed-use neighbourhood comprised of up to 1.3 million square feet of class-A office, premier retail and multi-family residential space,” Nagle says.

This new development is one of only a few lifestyle centres in Canada. Designed as an open-air neighbourhood organized around a lushly landscaped fashion street and vibrant central plaza, the whole project will be completed in two phases. Phase 1, which includes approximately 400,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space and 140,000 square feet of office space, is now open and operating. Phase 1 fashion retailers, such as BCBG Maxazria, Melanie Lyne, Mexx and The Children’s Place, are open along the first block of Uptown Boulevard, and strongly anchored by Best Buy, Future Shop, Shoppers Drug Mart and a two-storey, 220,000-square foot Walmart Super Centre. Phase 1 retail sales to date have been exceptional; the Uptown Walmart has been ranked either 1, 2 or 3 for sales volume of all Canadian Walmart stores since its opening on July 14, 2010.

With approximately 90 percent of the retail space in Phase 1 leased, an additional 340,000 square feet of retail, restaurant and office space in Phase 2 is currently under construction for a Summer 2012 completion.

The Uptown construction management team is a partnership between Vanbots Construction (a Carillion Company) and Magil Construction International. David Bayne, Vanbots’ project director, explains the approach to the project: “To quote what the owner needs from us, it was three words: ‘Give Me Flexibility!’ he says. We moved a temporary road five times during Phase 1 to allow continuous operation of the old Walmart store while their new facility was being built, we’ve used a moment-frame structure at the street fronts of the retail buildings to allow maximum tenant storefront design options, and we accelerated the completion of one of the projects’s office buildings by five months to accommodate the needs of a major office tenant.It is all about being able to react to the owners’ needs for existing leases, new leases and future marketing and lease-ability.”

The form and character of the potentially 500,000-square foot residential component of the project is still to be finalized. “Our previous residential partner had to withdraw when the residential condominium market softened in 2008/2009. The inherent attributes of the views from the site, the amenities being created as part of the commercial component of Uptown, and the desirability of the region as a place in which to live give us confidence that the residential opportunity will be realized when market demand returns,” says Nagle. “Our Phase 2 planning has been done to allow the residential component to be built as that market demand dictates.”

Setting a New Bar

Being built to accommodate fashion-forward national, local and international retailers, upscale and casual restaurants, category-dominant anchor stores, a bookstore, a liquor store, a spa, a high-quality grocery store, banks, insurance services, as well as more than 600 high-quality residences and areas for studios and offices, Uptown is an incredibly important economic generator for southern Vancouver Island.

But what really makes Uptown stand out is its focus on sustainability. “What we’re creating is a LEED-ND Gold-certified urban mixed-use neighbourhood that is setting a whole new environmental sustainability bar for retail development in Canada,” continues Nagle.

Beyond the overall project LEED-ND Gold certification, individual buildings at Uptown are being built to the standards of LEED for Core and Shell Gold certification. Landscaped rooftop terraces, operable windows, secure bike storage, employee shower facilities and public transit are available throughout the whole development. Currently four bus lines (and more to come), a vehicle-share program for tenants and Uptown Centre customers, and two regional bicycle trail networks provide energy-efficient ways to reach the new development.

Other sustainable aspects include a focus on light pollution reduction, including a larger incorporation of natural light and energy-efficient street lighting, low flow water fixtures for less water waste, green roof technologies like reflective and light-coloured rooftop surfaces, permanent CO2 monitoring to constantly check on the area’s air quality and using deconstruction methods for sorting and recycling the construction waste from the existing buildings being removed from the site. In addition, at least half of Uptown’s electricity is to be provided by renewable sources. The development also incorporates a high-efficiency irrigation system to reuse rain water and other water, reducing the neighborhood’s consumption by at least 50-percent relative to national averages for comparably sized developments.

While these sustainable features may be a budding trend for the industry, the concept of mixed-use development is not. “My perspective on mixed-use development is that it’s been the way cities evolved for thousands of years, and only within the last 60 years did we stop doing mixed-use development and started zoning to separate uses. Now I believe we’re just returning to a more efficient and liveable approach to urban development,” Nagle shares.

With the aim of maximizing the synergies between the office, retail, restaurant, entertainment and amenity spaces provided by new development, and capitalizing on its experience with sustainable development technologies, Morguard Investments Ltd. will continue strategically pursuing projects such as Uptown, helping to bring more vibrant and sustainable urban options to Saanich and other areas of the country.