As founder of Lamb Development Corp. – the flourishing Toronto developer responsible for nine completed projects, along with four projects under construction and six in development, it’s tough to deny the success of Brad Lamb. CREB® Now caught up with the busy developer to talk all things condo, including his upcoming 6th and Tenth project in Calgary.
CREB®Now>> Why did you choose Calgary for your most recent development?
Lamb>> We were looking for a third city to diversify to and mitigate risk and develop as a developer. As a businessperson, I have expansionist ideas so we don’t want to be stuck in one place. It makes it more exciting to help contribute to the changing landscape and skyline of multiple cities. Calgary came up because Edmonton — which is a great real estate city and has great opportunities — is too far north and it’s too cold. And Vancouver is a market unto it’s own. I’ve never understood the economy of real estate in Vancouver. They’re a little bit like Hong Kong or London or New York where you look at the numbers and you say ‘I just don’t understand it.’ They don’t follow the normal fundamental rules of real estate. So those kinds of things scare me. As a relatively conservative developer, if I can’t understand the marketplace, it scares me.
I looked at Calgary for six years. What I liked about Calgary is it’s an economically diverse as far as Canadian cities go. I mean all Canadian cities are somewhat tied to the primary product type resource, but what I liked about Calgary was it was a dynamic cosmopolitan city in a Canadian sense. I don’t think in a European sense it wouldn’t be seen that way but in a Canadian sense it’s one of our cosmopolitan cities. It’s a pretty hip city.
Calgary does have a condominium market and it has a downtown — a downtown that is expanding. It has quite an interesting skyline that a lot of U.S. cities would be envious of. It looks like a city. And then you start walking around it and it has these great neighbourhoods. If you want to build in the city, you need to find a city that has neighbourhoods that people actually live in or it’s just a work city. In a lot of American cities, Atlanta for instance, you could shoot a cannon through the city. There are no neighbourhoods; they’re all outside of the city.
CREB®Now>> How has your past as a REALTOR ® and a broker help you become a better developer?
Lamb>> How sales specifically helps is in the end nothing gets built in Canada unless you sell it first. What sets my company apart from pretty much all the other development companies in Canada, because no other development company in Canada that I’m aware of on the scale that we are, were founded by or run by somebody who started in sales as a real estate agent or broker. The advantage is when a developer isn’t getting sales or doesn’t understand what’s going on or doesn’t understand the customer, they need to reach out to someone in sales and say ‘What is going on and who’s our customer and what do we need to do to sell?’ because you can know as much as you like about construction and finance, but if you can’t sell it you can’t build it. So it’s a huge advantage.
CREB®Now>> What can you tell me about the design of your building?
Lamb>> Our stuff is always way ahead. People are always constantly copying our sales programs, our design programs and our architectural programs. The stuff we do is always on the edge and always leading the pack. We always have the best architecture, the best interior design, the best finishes and the newest materials. The buildings always have a little bit of craziness to them, and they always represent good architecture and design. So anyone who’s well educated in architecture and design would go by our building and say ‘That’s good’.
I think people like things that look good more so than things that don’t look good. So we start there and I think the sales background has given me an understanding of what else do people want. Like how big does a bedroom have to be? When you walk into a bedroom, what are the comments that buyers say? Because for 25 years I’ve been listening ad nauseam to what buyers say and don’t like or like. We try to incorporate that into our property.
CREB®Now>> What could Calgary learn from a city like Toronto in terms of the condo market?
Lamb>> I’m not sure that Calgary has to learn much from Toronto. Calgary on its own is discovering that it’s a new world. I think what your mayor realizes and what social leaders realize is that we can’t continue to hammer people into suburbs an hour from the city because it’s immoral from an environmental stance to take that amount of land and make houses there and then pollute the environment to bring them to work. As a species, we need to learn to live on this planet and live amongst ourselves in tighter quarters. That’s the future and not everyone gets that, but I think the civic leaders understand that is the future.
There’s a very positive sense within the political movement in the city to populate the core. When I first went to Calgary seven years ago and I saw the Beltline, I was like ‘Oh my god, this is fantastic.’ I can see this in 20 years when this whole thing is this amazing grid of mid-rise and high-rise [residential], bars, restaurants and fantastic shopping avenues. There are things happening. If you stand back and look it’s a developer’s paradise. There’s so much that can happen in this city — it’s exciting.
Calgary is a wealthy world city and it has a lot of people that are local people but it also has a lot of people from other places to help influence the city and bring in other fresh ideas. I think Calgary is the most exciting city in Canada right now. Not because of the economic growth — obviously you’ve got a great future with the oil sands — but if you just look at how that city unfolds, it’s amazing to have the rivers encapsulate the city. And then it has this great downtown within them… I think it’s a very exciting city. It’s got the most potential of any city in Canada over the next 20 years.
CREB®Now>> What’s the most important aspect of a good community?
Lamb>> The most important thing is the people really, but if you take away the people I would say what defines a community is what’s at the ground floor. And what really defines that is what is the retail in the area. That’s where people live, buy produce, meet people and that’s where their lives take place outside of the home. I think that good neighbourhoods are defined by good retail.