- Roy Bhandari (Broker of Record & Co-Founder, SAGE – TalkCondo) discussed the exciting launch of Panda Condos with Brian Brown (Principal, Lifetime Developments)
- What sets Lifetime apart from other builders
- Discussion on how Lifetime developed condominiums are ranked very highly on the resale market
- What makes the location for Panda Condos, right at Yonge & Dundas so unique and rare
- The incredible local amenities available at your door step
- Discussion on Panda Condos and where the name REALLY came from
- The features that will set Panda apart
- How you can get Platinum VIP Front of Line access with TalkCondo
Roy Bhandari: Good morning, everybody. This is Roy Bhandari with talkcondo.com, and today we are very fortunate to be joined by Brian Brown, the principal of Lifetime Developments. Brian, you’ve been a great supporter of TalkCondo since, really, when we began, and we’re really excited to work on any project that Lifetime brings to the market, but especially this one, Panda Condominiums. So, thank you for your time today. I know during launch time it’s difficult to find any time, so it’s-
Brian Brown: It’s an exciting time. It’s a good time.
Roy Bhandari: For sure. So, we’ve got a lot to cover today. I want to chat a little bit about yourself and Lifetime Developments. We’re going to move on and talk about this site specifically at Yonge and Dundas, and then I want to learn a bit more about Panda Condominiums. So, Lifetime Developments. Family company that’s turned into this … One of the top development companies in Toronto. Talk to us a little about the company and how it started and where you got to today.
Brian Brown: So, Lifetime’s been around for over 30 years. It started off in the low-rise business. It’s a family business, as you mentioned. Two families are, the Herzog family and the Pearl family. I’m fortunate to represent the Herzog family. My father-in-law was one of the original principals, Mel Pearl is the other principal, and unfortunately, my father-in-law passed away last May, and he’s left me with some big shoes to fill.
Roy Bhandari: For sure, for sure.
Brian Brown: But the plan is definitely to live up to his expectations. Lifetime started 30 years ago, as I mentioned. We started in the low-rise business about 15 years ago. We recognized the shift from low-rise to a very strong market in the downtown core for high-rise, and since then we’ve had the privilege of working on projects such as Waterpark City, which was our first high-rise development project. Indx, Karma, the Bond. We were involved-
Roy Bhandari: Bisha. We’re sitting in Bisha right now in-
Brian Brown: Bisha is our very own hotel brand. We launched this year, it’s the first hotel brand to launch in Toronto since the Four Seasons was launched in the 1960s. We also built the Four Seasons in Yorkville. So, we’ve had the privilege of a number of very strong, very exciting projects in Toronto, Panda being the latest one that we’re very excited about. What a lot of people don’t realize is that when we get to market, there’s already four, five years worth of work that’s already in place. So, to get to this stage and to be able to launch the project, it’s a milestone event for us. It’s an exciting time.
Roy Bhandari: Well, you guys have been very busy on the construction site, right? Like, in the last few years? I said you’ve been one of our early supporters, and I say that because one of the very first projects that we were involved in was the Karma, the Bond, the Bisha back in 2011, that sort of timeframe. I don’t know if you know this, and we do a lot of research of this stuff, but one of the reasons our clients continue to invest with Lifetime is they make a lot of money when they buy with Lifetime.
We looked at some of the numbers, and you look at some of the core neighbourhoods in Toronto. We look at Yorkville, and we look at the entertainment district, and we look at College Park, and what we found in each of these neighbourhoods was in Yorkville, a Lifetime-built development is ranked number one in terms of the per square foot price that they command on the resale side with the Four Seasons, and they just recorded a sale at over $1,800 a square foot. Jump down to College Park, Karma is the number one ranked condominium in that neighbourhood. And you’re not competing against overnight builders, it’s big builders, very, very …
You look at entertainment district, and this one’s actually my favourite little statistic. In the entertainment district, which is sort of John and Wellington to sort of Richmond and Peter area of that square, you’re ranked number one with Bisha and number two with Bond, and this is a neighbourhood with a lot of great buildings. But something that Lifetime do is resonating not just on the investor side when the pre-construction comes to market, but also on the resale side when real people are living and renting and buying these prices. So, there’s something there that you guys are doing, and I’d love to pick your brain on why you think …
Brian Brown: Well, it’s nice to hear those statistics. I wasn’t actually aware of that, but it’s certainly … It’s great to hear, because it shows that we’re doing something right. We pay a lot of attention not just to acquiring great sites, triple A sites. We look at a tremendous amount of sites before we actually choose to purchase a site. So, we spend a lot of time trying to get that side right, but even once we do that, we spend a considerable amount of time with the city, with the designers, with the architect, trying to understand the neighbourhood where we’re going to build, and not just what we’re going to build, but how that building’s going to affect the neighbourhood itself.
Roy Bhandari: For sure.
Brian Brown: So, there’s a lot of backend work that happens.
Roy Bhandari: We often find that the projects that do really well have a really firm understanding of who’s going to be living in this building five years from now. It’s not about who’s going to be buying it today, it’s who’s going to be living in it from … To match that up with the building that you’re building is so, so important. I mean, you guys put so much attention into the lobby designs. Your lobbies are phenomenal. Every single one you walk into, they’re incredible, the amenity package. There’s something about you that … About Lifetime that is a little bit more urban than some of the other developers, and maybe that’s got a lot to do with it as well.
Brian Brown: Well, the lobby to us is probably the most important feature of a building because we’re selling units in a building, and you could be in a building with 100 units, you could be in a building with 500 units. But for each of those people that buy one of those units, when their friends or family walk in the front door, that’s the first experience that they’re going to have. So, for us, getting that right and making it welcoming and timeless and classic is very important. The other side of it is the amenity and the amenity package that we try to put together, and we try to do something different with every building, and it also … It really depends on the market that we’re in, the neighbourhood that we’re in, who we think is going to actually live in the building. A little bit of that is forecasting, because the neighbourhood changes over a five-year period.
But in the case of Panda, we’re introducing a sport court to the outdoor amenity space, and so the sport court can be used for soccer, it can be used for tennis, can be used for basketball, can be used for volleyball. It’s really a multi-functional, multi-purpose sport court, and I haven’t seen too many condos, if any, actually integrate that into the amenity package. So, we’re always looking for something different.
Roy Bhandari: Nice. I actually got a little story that I remember, and this was four or five years ago, right after we sold out Index, Lifetime held an event at one of the swanky, downtown hotels, one of the five-star hotels. I walk in and I get into an elevator, and it’s you, a couple of the other management. It was Brandon Frankfurt and Mel Pearl in the elevator, we ended up in the elevator together. We’re doing the hellos, thank you, congratulations, and Mel’s just in a world on his own. He’s looking at this elevator, pushing the elevator, and he’s like, “This is the so-and-so elevator from so-and-so company,” and he looks at you and he says, “We should have nicer elevators in Bisha.” I got the sense that this is not the first time this kind of conversation’s happened. It’s always about looking at these details and finding where you can be better and where you can be-
Brian Brown: It’s definitely the small details. There’s always room for improvement, and we’re always looking to see what everybody else is doing and making sure that we stay at the top end of the market. You can’t just sit back and assume that I can use the same floor plan or I can use the same amenity package in the next building and for it to resonate the same way. Times change, people’s taste change.
Roy Bhandari: I think the easiest way, I sort of take it to the extremes. You wouldn’t put, necessarily, the Four Seasons in Liberty Village, and that’s not to knock Liberty Village, but it’s a mismatch of product and location. It’s about marrying those two together. So, that’s awesome, I love that. Like I said, Lifetime, one of our favourite builders to work with, and we will continue to do that. So, I want to shift gears and talk about Panda. Honestly, we get asked, “What do you know about Panda?” at least once a week for the last two years. So, if I’m getting asked about it … I know you are.
Brian Brown: Yeah, we’re certainly getting a lot of phone calls at the office, and have been for years. For a while, it was, “When is it coming out?”
Roy Bhandari: Let’s back up a little bit. It’s an important site right now. Used to be the World’s Biggest Bookstore. It was purchased on Edward Street right and Yonge and Dundas. What was it about the site that …
Brian Brown: The location. A lot of people have a lot of nostalgia for that property. They remember the World’s Biggest Bookstore, they remember going there. There’s a number of websites that talk about people’s experiences there. We didn’t want to ignore that, but at the same time, the site was definitely underutilized. It was a two-story warehouse-type building, and didn’t fit with the downtown core anymore. But when you look at this location, there were a couple key things that came to mind. Number one, it’s located steps away from Yonge-Dundas Square. Yonge-Dundas Square is the highest pedestrian-tourist intersection of the city. At the end of Edward Street is Ryerson University. Directly across the street is the TTC and path connection.
So, its location pretty much sells itself, but it’s also an … It’s close to the financial core, so a lot of people … Well, we say that … I think there’s going to be a lot of students renting in this building. At the same time, we think that there’s this other market of people that want to live in the downtown core, want to work or are working in the financial core, and proximity and location and access are very important.
Roy Bhandari: We always say there’s sort of a trifecta of tenants and users that we’re trying to attract. Number one is anybody to do with the school, so Ryerson, U of T, and between the financial district. The third one is also the hospital district. You step to five of the best hospitals in Canada, North America. Sick kids, you look at sick kids, it’s one of the top on the planet, forget North America. You can jump to there, it’s so close. So, you sort of attract all of those demographics, and you say it’s the centre of Toronto, but … I don’t know about you, but we’ve never sold anything at Yonge and Dundas because projects never come up. So, it’s really-
Brian Brown: It’s a rarity.
Roy Bhandari: It’s very rare, yeah. So, it’s connecting Eaton Centre and the schools and the financial district. Center ice is an understatement, I think. So, we’re really excited about that. I want to talk about Panda itself.
Brian Brown: Okay. I knew that question was coming.
Roy Bhandari: Why Panda? Where does the name come from? We got a …
Brian Brown: The genesis of that name actually came from the architecture. What we have is a large property on a block. It takes up almost half of the block. It was a large footprint, and in designing the building, what we wanted to do was make the building look like two buildings that are interconnected. So, we have a white building and we have a black building, and they’re interconnected. It started with that, and then we moved on to talking about doing something iconic on the block and making sure that this building really stood out from all the other buildings that are within that area, and something that would be recognized and known and remembered. The Panda, obviously, came to mind. It’s an iconic animal. The moment I say panda, people think black and white. You’re dressed like a panda today.
Roy Bhandari: Intentionally.
Brian Brown: I’m not, but you definitely are. It’s one of those things where if I say panda, you automatically think black and white, and you made that connection right away. From a marketing perspective, it just spiraled after that.
Roy Bhandari: For sure it did, yeah. So, talk to us a little bit about the building. Give us sort of the height, the suite count, what to expect. Give us sort of a … In a nutshell.
Brian Brown: It’s a 30-story building. There’s a four-story podium which will have commercial and retail. We can definitely expect to see a nice restaurant on the main floor. In the commercial part-
Roy Bhandari: [crosstalk 00:12:56] for that, right?
Brian Brown: We do, yeah. We spent a lot of time making sure. There’s your front door, but there’s also what everybody else expects or experiences along the street. What we like to see in our building is the ground floor spill out into the street and have a connection with the street. There’s a number of residential buildings that are just residential building, and when you walk by, there’s nothing really to experience. So, for us, I can’t think of one building that we haven’t done that doesn’t have a mixed-use application to it.
Roy Bhandari: We think it’s really, really important. The life at the grade level, we put an extremely high importance on that when we’re selecting condominiums and advising our clients. There’s a big difference in exactly what you just said. There’s a huge difference in terms of the way you feel when you approach it and the way the tenant feels when they approach it, and when the buyer feels when they approach it.
Brian Brown: When we started with the Victory Condos, we leased that space to Charles Khabouth and Hanif Harji, and they put in Weslodge and Patria, Index. We put in Boxcar Social. So, the ground floor is very important for us. It’s not just a door, but it’s also what it does for the street.
Roy Bhandari: For sure. So, we’ve got retail and commercial in the first four …
Brian Brown: Four floors.
Roy Bhandari: Four floors?
Brian Brown: Then it’s a 30-story building, including the podium. There’s 555 suites, and we have everything from studios to larger three-bedroom units with terraces, in some cases.
Roy Bhandari: Another area that is increasingly important because the buyers are getting very smart, but also the developers are getting smart, is the floor plans. Good use of spaces and no funky shapes. Again, I know this is an area that you guys spend a lot of time on. Is there anything you can talk about on that front?
Brian Brown: Well, we know that use of space and efficiency of that space is very important. So, in a space like this, it’s not just where a column’s going to be, it’s how we’re going to put furniture around that. So, we don’t just look at what’s the right size for a one-bedroom unit, or what’s the right size for this kitchen or a bedroom, or how everything interconnects. We also look at how furniture’s going to fit in everything, and we make sure that it’s functional. Use of space for storage is always a challenge in a condo. But really, I mean, when it comes to space planning, we look at a building as a whole. We know that people are going to live in a unit, but that unit is just where they sleep, where they store their stuff. We’re the entertainers, really, in the amenity space. So, the amenity space becomes a very key component of our developments.
Roy Bhandari: So, talk to us about the amenities. You mentioned you’ve got the sports.
Brian Brown: I mentioned the sport court. We have a significant size fitness facility. We also know-
Roy Bhandari: We’ve actually seen that, a trend. Sorry to cut you off. The fitness area is oftentimes the most used by some distance, in terms of all the amenities. So, we’re seeing a real big focus on making sure that gym is everything it needs to be.
Brian Brown: We have the basics. We have the barbecue area so that you can entertain outdoor. We have the indoor kitchen so that you can also host an event in the lounge. We have the lounge, obviously. What makes amenity spaces special is that extra something. So, knowing-
Roy Bhandari: That seems to be what you are very good at.
Brian Brown: We try hard.
Roy Bhandari: Well, it shows, right, and that’s what I’m saying. When you look at the … You’ve got the track record, and when you’ve got the track record to show that you’ve done it in the past, it gives some confidence.
Brian Brown: We’re always trying to find something different. In the case of Panda, it’s the outdoor sport court. But in addition to that, we also … Knowing that there’s a huge opportunity to cater to a student population in this building, we’ve done a number of rooms that are more of a breakout study room. We did more of an auditorium-type theater room with bean bag chairs. It’s more like a presentation space, but it can also be used for late night movies with your friends. So, we’ve really paid attention to that. There’s a games room as well with a pool table, a foosball table, and a pingpong table.
Roy Bhandari: Perfect.
Brian Brown: As you know, I have a thing for pingpong, so we wanted to make sure that that was also incorporated into our building.
Roy Bhandari: Is there anything I missed, I didn’t ask about Panda that you said, “You know what, this is something we should have talked about.”
Brian Brown: I think you covered off everything, to be honest with you. It’s an exciting project. We don’t [crosstalk 00:17:34].
Roy Bhandari: Walk Score. I want to make sure we … Everybody knows …
Brian Brown: Walk Score is 100 and … I think it’s 80. So, 100 for walking, 100 for TTC or public transit, and biking, it’s around an 80 score. So, very, very strong.
Roy Bhandari: Actually, 100 is not … We don’t see that very often. We see 98, we see 90, but 100-100 is very, very good. We’re really excited about Panda. I know there’s a lot of excitement in the market. I know this is something that you’ve been working on for many, many years now. We’re very excited to work on it. So, if our clients are interested in purchasing, what do they need to do?
Brian Brown: They need to talk to this guy.
Roy Bhandari: This guy. Yeah, you know what, it’s all about relationships in this world.
Brian Brown: It is. We don’t really go broadly into the market. Relationships, as you mentioned, are very important for us. We have a core group of people that have been very good to us over the years. Loyalty, just because it’s a family business and we know how people grow their own businesses. So, we support those that support us. We’ve done that over the years.
Roy Bhandari: Well, we’re really excited, and we look forward to bringing you some deals.
Brian Brown: Sounds good.
Roy Bhandari: Thank you very much, Brian.