Urban development comes with its own set of unique challenges for the construction industry. Since 2005, the BANC Group has been involved in developing the downtown and surrounding areas of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Its highly skilled development team and an individualized approach to every project are helping Halifax residents and businesses grow in customized buildings designed for the twenty-first century.
BANC’s story begins with its Founder and Chief Executive Officer Besim Halef, who immigrated to Canada from his native Turkey with a background in metallurgical engineering. Besim quickly worked his way up through the ranks and eventually purchased the assets and real estate of the company of which he once was an employee. Besim founded BANC Metal Industries Ltd. in 1998, using the fabrication plants to supply quality structural steel projects of all types for various uses across all of North America. From pipelines to heavy steel power plant equipment to oil frigates, BANC Metal industries was a large manufacturer in the Maritimes.
As the fledgling company continued its growth, it soon attained two additional steel fabrication plants. BANC Metal began making a name for itself in the early 2000s, employing 600 people in the three plants (two in Dartmouth and one in Pictou, NS). Atlantic Canadian industrial giant Irving acquired two of BANC’s plants for its shipbuilding division. Thanks to its growing reputation for solid work, BANC was able to lease its remaining steel plant to the Toronto-based Aecon Group, though it maintains ownership of that plant today.
With the sale of the plants complete, Besim began diversifying into a passion for real estate. Soon, the new office of BANC Properties was formed with the purchase of a significant office building. Shortly thereafter, BANC Developments was formed with the intent of working on area projects of various sizes for significant land development of both commercial and residential subdivisions. In 2006, BANC also entered into the hotel market with the purchase and renovation of the existing Halifax Airport Hotel.
While this shift from industry to land development might appear unexpected at first glance, “That’s always been his interest,” says son and current BANC President Alex Halef. And while his father Besim continues to manage his commercial land developments, Alex himself “ended up going in a bit of a different direction.” Since 2010, he has led a completely separate company in creating signature urban projects throughout the Halifax area and in particular, the Halifax Peninsula – mixed-use residential and commercial concrete high-rise structures of different, diverse and creative uniqueness to the developments.
He elaborates that his father’s enduring passion for land development is, at least in part, part of his Turkish heritage. “Owning land back home was always difficult, but it was always something he desired,” Alex relates, “so it was always something that intrigued him.” He says that, as an immigrant, Besim wanted to make his mark. “You come to a new country, and you want to own a piece of it.”
Today, father and son lead the two separate aspects of the company, under a single umbrella as the BANC Group. Alex praises the group’s single headquarters, providing proximity but clearly divided boundaries. “There’s no overlapping. There’s no conflict,” he reports. “At the end of the day, the communication is more of a partnership nature.” Alex also marvels at how much the company has achieved in his ten years of management. “We’ve accomplished a lot in a short period of time on top of what was already accomplished by my father.”
BANC Developments is headed by a small number of extremely capable staff, making it agile and adaptable. “We’ve built a very good team here,” Alex remarks proudly, elaborating that this small, elite group can cut down on the heavier overhead found in larger companies. As each employee is quite skilled, their breadth of knowledge makes it easier for the company to make informed decisions quickly. “The more knowledge you have, the quicker you can make decisions,” he says, “and I think that knowledge base across every facet of the business helps us make decisions very quickly.”
In addition, Alex believes the small size helps BANC in its attention to detail, which he hails as one of the company’s signature attributes. “For as large as we have become, we’re still very much involved in day-to-day business, even the smallest of decisions,” he reports. The company pays adequate attention to all aspects of the business process from managerial to financial and construction.
This passionate attention to detail is something Alex takes seriously. He oversees every aspect of the development process, managing inevitable changes along the way. “These projects don’t just produce themselves,” he says. “They need to be managed, nurtured, detailed, and overseen from every aspect to ensure the objective of the vision at conception is met at completion.”
Finally, its size allows the company to focus on its exemplary customer service. “I’m always looking for ways to improve our customer service and our offerings,” Alex says, “so one of the biggest things is being self-critical.” By taking an individual approach to each project, the company can ensure the highest quality products for its customers and tenants while avoiding the traps of repetition and complacency. In addition, the team looks for ways to add services and amenities to the buildings whenever and if at all possible, not necessarily with the intent of making a profit, but of creating a living experience that is enjoyable for the people living in the building. But, Alex also remarks that further improvements to customer service are required as it is simply not an area “that you can ever be content in and be satisfied.”
He takes it very seriously, as he realizes the company’s impact on Halifax’s growth. “The key to urban projects, I think, is to create the fabric of a city,” he remarks. To that end, BANC incorporates not only its own designs but also those from other developers and architects to create a coherent whole. “It takes that vision to create a skyline,” Alex says.
One of its most recent additions to the Halifax skyline is the Craigmore, a 43,000-square-foot office building which the company purchased and then added a sixteen-storey residential complex with seventy-seven luxury units and an attached parking garage. BANC’s work on this addition earned the company several awards from the Canadian Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute (CPCI). “The Craigmore was very unique,” Alex notes. “We’re proud of its design and how it turned out.”
BANC is also currently working on a large mixed-use building just off of Halifax’s bustling Spring Garden Road. When completed in 2021, the Margaretta will boast 221 residential units above a single level of retail shops and a three-level underground parking garage. Alex comments that the Margaretta appeals to “literally every demographic possible,” highlighting the building’s five thousand square feet of ground floor open space connected by a central courtyard. “When it’s finished, it will be second-to-none, as far as both the layouts of the units and their finishes.”
These and several other developments are proceeding despite the rising cost of building materials, a troubling industry trend. Alex admits that even a company as large as BANC cannot quite nail down the cause. “It’s hard for us to understand just where the numbers have gone,” he laments.
“You’re constantly in research mode,” he reports. “Whether it’s a different panel system, whether it’s where the panels are coming from and how they are installed… those kinds of things come into play.” While primary construction resources such as aluminum, steel, and concrete would never be replaced to cut costs, other materials used in a building’s interior might be substituted for more cost-effective solutions. “You wouldn’t sacrifice the quality. However, it would just look a little bit different,” he explains.
An equally daunting challenge is the shortage of skilled labour. But the company is pleased by the strong relationships it has cultivated with its subcontractors over the years and relies on them to get the job done. “If you have good relationships with your contractors, ultimately, you’re able to get the work done from project to project,” Alex says. Thanks to these relationships, compounded by BANC’s reputation for customer service, organization, and clear communication, the company remains confident its subcontractors can and will provide the professional service required.
Despite these difficulties, BANC remains committed to its vision of improving the Halifax skyline. With a nineteen-storey tower in Halifax’s north end and several commercial developments currently underway as well as the aforementioned projects, it has its work cut out for it.
But as the company grows, Alex hopes it will grow internally as well as externally. “If you keep adding assets, but don’t change the way you do things, you just continue to make the same mistakes over and over.” But with BANC’s proven model of focusing on customer service and self-improvement, the group is well on its way to changing Halifax’s skyline for the better.