Geoff Nagle is an optimist and life is definitely positive for the 55-year-old director of development, Western Canada at Morguard Investments.
The B.C. real estate market is busy and in fact, a number of exciting projects are keeping Nagle very busy these days. The most notable is the mixed-use neighbourhood known as Uptown in Saanich, the company’s largest single project to date at more than $300 million.
Construction on phase 1 began in 2008, taking a 226,000 square foot 1960s strip centre and transforming it into a state-of-the-art sustainable urban mixed-use neighbourhood comprised of Class-A office, retail and multi-family residential space.
“One of our most exciting projects in the past few years is Uptown, a LEED-ND gold project that has completed three phases with the fourth phase underway with construction start expected in 2017,” says Nagle. “Uptown is at the centre of an evolving urban core in Saanich – it’s been a game changer.”
The final phase of the award winning development will feature a 14-storey building that includes 134 rental units and townhomes along with 55,000 square feet of retail space. Phase 4 will be the first apartment building on the island for Morguard and the tallest rental building in Saanich.
“As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither was downtown Saanich,” says Nagle with a laugh. “Building a project like this that is welcomed by everyone involved has been a rewarding process.”
Nagle, with more than 25 years of design and development experience, enjoys community building.
“I’m interested in what it takes to get community change underway. It’s vastly complicated with many stakeholders,” he says. “We are in the business of change and I decided a long time ago if I’m going to be in the business of change, my full intent is to make it change for the better.”
Real estate development, however, was not his first career choice. Born in Vancouver, Nagle grew up in different countries such as Pakistan, Italy and the U.S. before returning to his hometown.
“I had the good fortune of living in Rome in my teenage years and decided I had to become an architect,” says Nagle, explaining his father, as an economist for the World Bank and the United Nations, worked all around the world.
After graduating with his Bachelors of Architecture from Montana State University in 1986, he returned to Vancouver, became licensed with the AIBC and practiced as a commercial architect for five years. Nagle recalls how he worked early mornings (5am-8am) for a developer doing proforma work before heading to his architectural job. “Those were long days,” he says.
With a passion for all aspects of development, he went on to obtain his Master’s degree in Real Estate Development from MIT in 1992. “I was really interested in a driving role in the actual overall concepts and the projects created – interested in what it takes to get community change underway.”
He joined Morguard Investments in December 1992 as manager of new business in B.C., which eventually evolved to include Western Canada before he assumed his current role in 1999.
With regional offices in most major markets across Canada, Morguard is one of the largest fully integrated real estate companies in the country with a portfolio of more than 40 million square feet. In North America, the company’s owned and managed portfolio of assets is valued at almost $20 billion. Morguard’s portfolio is well-diversified with real estate properties across multiple asset classes including office, retail, industrial, mixed use and residential properties.
“My first major project was the expansion of the Coquitlam Centre, which opened in 2001,” says Nagle. “It was the biggest private sector project in Western Canada at the time.”
Nagle doesn’t practice as an architect in his current role, but is rather a “good client” that enjoys the rewards of “having been able to be part of some significant improvements to the communities that we’re working in.”
At any given time, he oversees six or seven significant projects across Western Canada from Saskatoon to Victoria with a focus on office, industrial and retail. His responsibilities include identifying and proposing concepts of a project, obtaining approvals from authorities, assembling the team of consultants and engaging with the public.
One of those projects includes 601 West Hastings in downtown Vancouver, which is waiting for final approvals. The 225,000 square foot office tower, at the corner of Hastings and Seymour, is targeting LEED Gold and will feature a revitalized plaza. It will offer 8,500 square feet of leasable space per floor near one of the city’s busiest transit hubs at Waterfront Station.
“This is the first project we’ve developed in the downtown core in a few years. We’ve been acquirers and owners but not developers,” says Nagle, adding construction start will hopefully be spring 2017. “The concept of the building is single tenant office space. We have a small site but it’s the right size for the Vancouver office market where we don’t typically have large anchor tenants like Toronto or New York.”
Another area of business that Morguard is pursuing is rental residential.
“Morguard has a significant portfolio of rental residential across North America, but not in B.C. Uptown would be the first, so we’re actively looking for opportunities,” says Nagle.
With the high housing prices in the Metro Vancouver region, the demand for rental housing and more affordable alternatives is strong. The majority of the existing stock is old, but new purpose-built rental housing is gaining traction among developers.
“We can make inroads in our affordability crisis through allowing supply to happen,” comments Nagle. “A big part of it is municipal approvals – if we can roll through the process more efficiently and bring product on stream, it will help with affordability.”
With significant retail holdings in B.C., Nagle is also focused on master planning and planning densification of several retail properties into urban mixed use including Coquitlam Centre.
“When we acquired it, the centre was sitting in a forest and now it’s in a transit hub in an emerging downtown core of an active community,” says Nagle. “Coquitlam Centre is on 59 acres and we need to be consciously looking at how that will evolve into the next step.”
Other retail properties in B.C. include Sevenoaks Shopping Centre in Abbotsford, Cottonwood Mall in Chilliwack, Burquitlam Plaza in Coquitlam and Shelbourne Plaza in Saanich.
Like many commercial owners across Canada, Morguard is dealing with Target’s exit from Canada which put some significant retail space on the market.
“We got 15 Target stores returned to us across Canada so that is generating reconfiguration work and redevelopment opportunity,” he notes.
Nagle expects the market to remain extremely busy in the immediate future, especially in Vancouver where residential development has been booming.
“We’ve lived through several cycles of extreme construction cost inflation followed by periods of relative stability. Access to construction resources at an economically viable rate is always a concern,” he says. “There has been a lot of pressure on costs in the Vancouver market due to all the activity in residential taking up available capacity. We’re watching it carefully and we will have to see what happens.”
Cheryl Mah is managing editor of Canadian Property Management B.C./Alberta.