Minto, Urbandale re-enter crowded condo market

It’s been almost a decade since one of Ottawa’s largest homebuilders completed its last high-rise condo, the Metropole.

By Mark Brownlee.

For years after opening the building just west of Island Park Drive and north of Scott Street, Minto has shied away from one of the city’s fastest-growing housing segments.

“We felt it was a little soft, we weren’t sure if the depth of the market was there,” said Brent Strachan, senior vice-president at Minto Communities.

“But as the numbers have shown over the last five years, the condo market in Ottawa has taken an increasingly higher percentage of the market, so we decided to get back into it but we were very specific and strategic as far as where we wanted to be.”

Now Minto is back with UpperWest, a new high-rise condo development planned just north of the corner of Richmond Road and Broadview Avenue.

It’s the latest homebuilder to jump into the increasingly crowded Ottawa condo industry that now includes builders traditionally focused on greenfield subdivisions, new entrants from Toronto and established local condo developers such as Claridge and Charlesfort.

Condos accounted for 17.3 per cent of new Ottawa housing starts in 2005, according to data collected by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. By 2012, that figure had ballooned to 38 per cent.

CMHC officials said there are two main demographics driving this growth: relatively wealthy young professionals who want an urban living experience and older baby boomers who want out of their single-family homes.

“These two groups are demanding these types of dwellings and therefore builders and developers are just responding to the demand from these demographic groups,” said Sandra Perez-Torres, senior market analyst for the Ottawa area with CMHC.

These are exactly the sorts of people Minto is targeting with its latest high-rise condominium, said Minto’s Mr. Strachan.

On a recent tour of the UpperWest project’s showroom, he pointed to a room that had been designed to accommodate a pull-out couch. This is so boomers who have recently moved out of a house can make use of the space most of the time, but still host overnight guests.

Similarly, Minto plans to construct two and three-bedroom townhomes as part of the UpperWest project that are geared towards older buyers who want to leave their relatively large houses, but still have more room than a smaller condominium offers.

Minto is not the only builder that sees a business opportunity in providing more space to baby boomers who are downsizing.

Urbandale Construction general manager Matthew Sachs said the units in its 28-storey tower at 99 Parkdale Ave. will be bigger than the 500 to 600-square-foot condos common in other buildings.

With these living spaces, “You’ve basically got a box looking out a window. They call it ‘hotel style,’ but really it’s like living in a hotel room,” said Mr. Sachs. “We saw a niche there to create (larger) condominium homes … to satisfy a different type of condominium buyer.”

All of the units in 99 Parkdale have at least one bedroom and are 750 square feet, said Mr. Sachs. Minto’s UpperWest project, by contrast, has several units that are smaller.

This allows Urbandale to include amenities such as more space for storage and a workable kitchen with a large fridge, said Mr. Sachs.

UpperWest’s location is what sets it apart from other projects, said Minto’s Mr. Strachan. The company advertises views of the Ottawa River, biking and walking trails along the John A. Macdonald Parkway nearby and a short walk to transit and shops.

This is one of the main reasons why he’s convinced Minto’s latest foray into the condo market, which also includes new projects at Lansdowne Park and plans for another building in Beechwood, will be different.

“There’s a lot of new projects coming on, there’s no denying that,” said Mr. Strachan. “There’s a lot of product out there so the key for us is: what are we offering that we are different and unique to the competition?”

SIDEBAR: Re-tooling

Urbandale’s highrise condo project at 99 Parkdale Ave. marks a shift in strategy for the long-time suburban land developer, but it doesn’t mean the firm plans to stop building single-family homes anytime soon, said Matthew Sachs, the firm’s general manager.

He said construction on the project hasn’t started yet, so it’s still too early to tell what the expansion into high-rises will mean for his business in terms of who it needs to hire and whether it will need to re-assign anyone.

But he said he’d like to, as much as possible, use the staff they already have under the Urbandale umbrella of companies for the project.

Brent Strachan, vice president of Minto Communities, said the firm wants to draw on the expertise its employees have built up from developing condominiums in places such as Toronto.

The company will be adding people as the project gets closer to construction, he said.

SIDEBAR 2: Property profiles

UpperWest by Minto

485 Richmond Rd.

Size: 25 storeys

Number of suites: 192

Price range: $210,900-$744,900

Tentative occupancy: Summer 2015


99 Parkdale by Urbandale

99 Parkdale Ave.

Size: 28 storeys

Number of units: 180

Price range: starting under $500,000

Tentative occupancy: 2015