As Brett Miller marked his one-year anniversary last week as chief executive officer of Canderel, he reflected on rejoining the company where he started his real estate career and looked ahead at its plans for continued growth and expansion.
Miller succeeded Canderel founder Jonathan Wener in February 2019 after spending six years as CEO of JLL Canada. Before JLL, Miller served as executive vice-president and regional managing director for CBRE in Eastern Canada.
Miller’s real estate career, however, began in 1986 with the first of a number of executive roles at Canderel. He’s had a long-standing relationship with Wener and appreciated the expertise and people at the Montreal-headquartered company.
“My heart has always been with real estate and real estate development,” Miller told RENX in an interview.
“I worked for about 20 years on the service side of the business and wanted to get closer to the development side, so it was very nice to return to my roots.”
The timing was also right for a move, as more investors are now interested in real estate and Miller believes Canderel can provide what they’re looking for.
“There are very few developers, investors and managers of real estate that have a national scale, that have 45 years of history with a very strong platform, and the ability to play at the institutional level,” he said.
Miller says he learned a lot while working on the service side of the industry, including the importance of being people-oriented. This prompted the hiring of a number of “ambitious, forward-looking self-starters” at Canderel.
It’s also provided “extensive relationships at a national level with various tenants, owners and financial institutions, because the volume of transactions you see is so much greater than what a single developer would see.”
Canderel’s growth strategy
The McGill University and INSEAD graduate is creating an “institutional-type platform” at Canderel by focusing on environmental, social and corporate governance principles, creating a technology road map, not siloing information, providing quality reporting to investors, and looking at succession planning, diversity and company culture.
“The strategy is to absolutely service institutional investors, which starts on the capital side,” said Miller.
“In a very organized and methodical way, we are reaching out to our current financial partners and future partners to understand what they’re looking for and want to invest in — which cities and asset classes.”
Canderel’s investment teams in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver are tasked with finding appropriate fits. Miller said many opportunities have surfaced during the past six months.
“The markets are so buoyant and the end-user pricing, whether it’s office leasing or residential pricing, is so strong that it unlocks new opportunities for land sites that we previously thought wouldn’t work.”
Large numbers of skilled, educated and well-capitalized immigrants have created demand for residential and office real estate. Aligned with low interest rates, that has made Canada “a great place right now.”
“If there’s one worry we do have, it’s that construction prices have escalated at a crazy rate and the entitlement process to bring projects forward by working through municipalities, planning departments and heritage departments is being stretched out much longer than it’s ever been,” Miller explained.
“It’s an issue for the industry because we have strong demand that needs to be satisfied — at the lower end of the scale, for affordable housing.
“We need projects to be approved, we need to be able to build affordably, and the longer it takes and the more expensive it is to source properties, do form work or install mechanical systems, the harder it is to satisfy all stratas of society and all types of office tenants.
“We can’t just be building luxury.”
Major market real estate
While the Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal real estate markets remain hot, Miller said there’s been a surge of activity in Ottawa.
The city’s population is growing by 10,000 annually, creating a need for more housing along with the increasing office requirements of the federal government and technology sector.
While other companies have shied away from Alberta since the drop in oil prices, Canderel also sees “counter-cyclical” opportunities in Edmonton and Calgary.
A 150,000-square-foot Costco will open this spring. Construction has also begun at the adjacent Shops at Buffalo Run, which will offer an additional 250,000 square feet of retail when it opens next year.
“Retail is a strong need because it backs on to a very densely populated area of Calgary that’s underserviced from a retail perspective,” said Miller.
While Canderel isn’t active in Atlantic Canada, Miller would like that to change. Farther down the road, he said there’s a possibility of looking outside of Canada for projects.
The company manages approximately 23.2 million square feet of property. Since 1975, it has acquired, developed and managed projects worth close to $15 billion.
Current Canderel projects
Miller was in Toronto for the Feb. 19 groundbreaking of 900 St. Clair West, a 12-storey, Quadrangle-designed condominium with 122 units. The building, part of the first phase of St. Clair Village, is more than 75 per cent sold.
Suites range from one to three bedrooms, some as large as 2,000 square feet. Remaining units start in the low $700,000s.
“We’ve designed it with the neighbourhood in mind,” said Miller. “In our opinion, there are too many condo projects, particularly in Toronto and Vancouver, that are built for the shoebox buyer.”
The next phase of St. Clair Village, the 908 St. Clair West condo, will launch in early 2021. KingSett Capital is a partner with Canderel on that development.
The 66-storey, 639-unit YC Condos, at Yonge and College Streets in Toronto, is sold-out with units being delivered.
Canderel and Claridge just completed a 105,000-square-foot office building at 6795 Marconi in Montreal’s Mile-Ex neighbourhood. The Microsoft Research Montreal lab, the company’s North American artificial intelligence headquarters, is a tenant.
Canderel helped build Ottawa’s Constitution Square in the late 1980s and early ’90s.
Along with majority owner Greystone Managed Investments (now known as TD Asset Management) and Canstone Realty Advisors, it acquired the million-square-foot class-A office complex for $480 million from Oxford Properties and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board in 2017.
Canderel manages the property and is overseeing renovations that include a new conference centre and gym, along with upgraded meeting rooms, lobbies and common areas.
Canderel’s management services
Canderel’s project and property management teams are prospecting clients to bring on new portfolios to manage, and recently became involved with two major properties in Edmonton.
It’s the property and asset manager for the 66-storey, 700,000-square-foot residential, office and retail-inclusive Stantec Tower, the highest Canadian building outside of Toronto.
Canderel is also property manager of the office and parking components of the 1.4-million-square-foot Edmonton City Centre office and retail complex, as well as a co-investor in the site.
“Canderel has the ability to invest alongside the capital of its clients,” said Miller. “It’s not a necessity, so we do third-party management, but we really like placing our capital along with our capital partners.”
Canderel purchased Ottawa-based project management company Tiree Facility Solutions late in 2019 and it’s now run as an independent subsidiary.
“It extends our capabilities on the project management side because they have 250 project managers working for them, for the most part for the federal government’s various ministries and departments, but with the ability to work across many sectors,” said Miller.
“With that acquisition, we became a company with about 650 employees.”