As its controversial plan to build two new apartment buildings near a heritage site in Old Ottawa East heads toward an appeal, Regional Group is bringing in a major real estate investment firm as a partner in the project.
Toronto-based Fengate Asset Management said this week it’s joining the latest phase of Regional Group’s Greystone Village development as a “joint decision-maker” and investor. The LiUNA Pension Fund of Central and Eastern Canada has also signed on as a financial partner.
Fengate, which has offices in the GTA, Houston, Vancouver and New York, manages more than $20 billion worth of assets. The two mixed-use buildings on Oblats Avenue will be its first venture into the Ottawa market.
The six- and nine-storey structures will be located at the entrance to Greystone Village, a 26-acre development between Main Street and the Rideau River that’s being built near the historic Edifice Deschâtelets Scholasticate Monastery and is expected to eventually include more than 1,000 housing units.
Fengate managing director Jaime McKenna said the buildings’ close proximity to the Glebe and the Lees LRT station as well as the project’s blend of green space and amenities such as fitness facilities make it a prime opportunity.
“Everything about it hit all the marks,” McKenna said Thursday while taking a break from the Ottawa Real Estate Forum. “It was pretty easy to get our heads around why this was a logical investment.”
With a price tag north of $125 million, the latest phase of Greystone Village consists of a six-storey and a nine-storey building with a total of nearly 20,000 square feet of retail space and 245 rental apartment units. Ottawa council gave the project the green light in July by a vote of 14-9, but the approval did not come without controversy.
A group of nearby residents fought Regional Group’s request to boost the height of one of the buildings from six to nine storeys, arguing a taller structure would overshadow the heritage Deschâtelets building and the Grand Allée leading up to it. Opponents of the project are now taking their case to the province’s Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, which mediates such disputes.
McKenna downplayed the appeal, saying she believes that once residents of Old Ottawa East get a full picture of the development’s benefits to the neighbourhood, they’ll come on side.
“That’s not uncommon for us to go to LPAT and have to defend some of the approvals we’ve requested,” she said. “I empathize with that. It’s an opportunity for the community to voice their concerns and for us to share with the community our vision. It doesn’t concern me.”
Regional Group chief operating officer Dave Wallace said critics of the project are ignoring many “positive planned changes” to the surrounding area.
He said his company is in talks to sell the heritage building to a local French school board, the Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est, which intends to convert it into a school and community centre. Regional Group is also negotiating to sell some of the adjacent property to the City of Ottawa as a site for a public gymnasium, Wallace added.
“Those were two tremendously positive changes in the plan that the community did not talk about, nor did any of the local politicians,” he said.
Wallace said he’s confident the proposal will go ahead.
“We’re always trying to do the best thing in terms of the plan and the design, and we felt that that site was more than capable of handling that density,” he said. “We know there’s a need for it. We don’t ever try to confidently predict an outcome, but we do believe we will ultimately prevail on appeal.”
The six-storey building is already under construction and is expected to be ready for occupancy within two years. Pending the outcome of the LPAT challenge, Wallace says Regional hopes to break ground on the nine-storey structure sometime in 2020.
McKenna said there could be future opportunities for collaboration between Fengate and Regional, adding her company is eager to expand its footprint in the National Capital Region.
“I think this will be a key place for us to invest,” she said. “I love the economic dynamics of Ottawa. We tick all the boxes here.”