In three decades in the leasing business, Stan Humphreys has had a front-row seat to witness the evolution of Ottawa’s commercial real estate market.
In all that time, he says, he’s never seen anything quite like Zibi, the $1.2-billion mixed-use development that’s set to transform Albert and Chaudiere Islands on the Ottawa River into an environmentally and pedestrian-friendly mix of condos, shops, parks and office space.
Last month, Humphreys signed on with Toronto-based developer Dream Unlimited – one of two main partners in the project along with Ottawa’s Windmill Developments – as its new leasing manager for Zibi’s commercial properties.
The way he sees it, it’s the kind of opportunity that only comes along once in a career.
“To take this site and have a great mix of residential, hotels, retail, offices and community (and) cultural facilities, it’s just the epitome of a live, work and play type of location,” he says.
“The (site) is one of the premier locations in town to be part of. It’s pretty amazing. There’s such great views of everything – Parliament Hill, the (National Gallery of Canada), the Chaudiere Falls. It’s magnificent. To be part of something this grand is amazing.”
If anyone has the historical and business perspective to make an assessment like that, it’s Humphreys. Before joining the Dream team, he was leasing manager at Colonnade Bridgeport Realty, one of many senior roles in leasing and property management he’s held since beginning his career in the capital in the mid-1980s.
Among those jobs was a stint as director of leasing at a company co-owned by John Westeinde, the patriarch of the well-known Ottawa construction clan that includes John’s sons and Windmill co-founders Jeff and Jonathan. As part of that role, he was in charge of finding tenants for the Kanata Centrum when the west-end shopping centre was being developed in the mid-’90s.
Dream’s senior vice-president of commercial properties, Gordon Wadley, says Humphreys brings a combination of passion and experience to the job that’s hard to beat.
'Great work ethic'
“Stan is someone who’s got great exposure to public-sector and private-sector tenants throughout the market. His broker network is second to none in the region,” Wadley says.
“He’s a gentleman who brings a great work ethic, who’s got a great personality and also knows how to execute a deal. He was always at the top of our list in terms of the type of person that we wanted to bring on.”
Humphreys has his work cut out for him, conceding he’s never worked on a project on the scale of Zibi.
The first phase of the massive development, which is slated for completion in 2023, includes about 590,000 square feet of commercial space along with 130,000 square feet of retail and up to 385,000 square feet of hotel property.
Phase two is expected to add another 260,000 square feet of office space and 85,000 additional square feet of retail real estate.
Humphreys says his priorities will be finding office and retail tenants who share Dream and Windmill’s green vision for the development. He’s particularly keen on targeting clients in the tech and government sectors, and says deals will likely start being announced this summer.
Humphreys says the retail component will feature a mix of grocery stores, restaurants, coffee shops and services such as dry cleaners and tailors. He and Wadley say they’ve had “great conversations” with a number of potential private-sector tenants – including tech and professional services firms that don’t currently have a presence in the Ottawa market – although they declined to name any specific firms or brands they’re negotiating with.
If all goes according to plan, new leaseholders could start moving into their new digs by the fourth quarter of 2019, Humphreys says.
“There will be everything here to sustain the office tenants and the residential (component),” he says.
With the even bigger LeBreton Flats redevelopment project aiming to break ground just northwest of Zibi in the next couple of years, it’s heady times for the Ottawa real estate and construction industries, Humphreys adds.
“I think all the sites are going to complement each other,” he says. “This is creating a real exciting node in the city. It’s going to be a district unto itself.”