The skyline of Halifax, Nova Scotia’s capital city, is changing, primarily due to substantial multi-residential development. This particular sector is showing no indication of slowing. In fact, according to the Conference Board of Canada, the city is forecast to grow by close to two percent this year.
Halifax is renowned for having one of the largest, deepest natural harbours along the Atlantic seaboard, making this Canadian city an essential commercial port – one of the largest in the world. But the city is garnering attention in other ways, as evidenced by the number of cranes dotting its skyline. This is good news for developers keenly interested in being a key player in this growth potential, now and into the future.
One such developer is Templeton Properties, headquartered in the city. Its fifty-five employees make it one of the largest, recognizable, family-owned-and-operated developers of multi-residential properties here. This company is leaving its mark on the city, with twenty-two developments to date.
“We only develop for ourselves. We are our own general contractors, and we develop and own the assets after the fact,” explains President Joe Metlege, who took over leadership from his father, Andrew Metlege in 2006.
First-generation Haligonian Joe explains that Andrew immigrated to Canada from Lebanon in 1964 and established the company in 1972. Andrew had the humblest beginnings, but managed, over time, to nurture his company to the success that it is today. Now retired, Andrew still remains active serving as company chairman. “It’s really remarkable what he was able to accomplish,” says Joe.
He says that the Halifax development scene can be largely attributed to developers that are eighty to ninety percent Lebanese, proudly exclaiming that Andrew, the first Lebanese developer in the city, is “known as the godfather in the development community.”
In the mid-1980s, Andrew was the first to build a high-rise building, the King Andrew Tower, named after a family member. The tower “became the highest residential point in the city.” From 1972 to 1994, Andrew created “about a three-hundred-unit portfolio,” Joe says.
Under Joe’s guidance and leadership, the Fenwick Tower, in the city’s south end, was acquired from Dalhousie University in 2009 and converted from its original student housing to apartments. At thirty-four storeys, Fenwick Tower, renamed Vuze Tower is, “the tallest building in Atlantic Canada,” says Joe. “It’s the tallest building east of Montreal.”
Since 2006, “We’ve grown to about one thousand units and have about $500 million worth of developments already approved and on the development block over the next fourteen years.”
Templeton Properties prides itself on the quality of every one of its projects, and this requires a proficient and qualified team to oversee every aspect of development. “We hire for cultural fit, and we train for competency.” Equally essential is the unmatched service that springs from motivated employees.
“To strive for excellence, you need to be motivated,” Joe says. “For us, I guess our key to success has been finding people who share our values.”
Employees have to align themselves with Templeton’s philosophy and vision. “First and foremost, our values are honesty and integrity,” says Joe. “We are a family business. We don’t differentiate Templeton Properties from Andrew Metlege and family.”
Joe explains that the family lives in the communities and have children attending schools in the communities that, “we own and develop. We try to be outstanding corporate citizens and normal citizen in our communities.” That the company strictly adheres to its values while serving clients and staff is, “the most important thing, because it’s truly a reflection on us just as much as the organization.”
The company’s relationship with suppliers plays a pivotal role in delivering quality at each phase of construction. “We only deal with the best contractors and suppliers because of our relentless pursuit of excellence.”
Contractors, suppliers and staff share the same company vision. “It’s like a peg in a wheel. It’s not individual silos,” continues Joe. “We have to do a lot of due diligence with our contractors and suppliers.” And due to the volume on the operations side, that “gets us in front of a lot of contractors and suppliers, so we’re able to really weed out those that don’t match our vision and build stronger relationships with the ones that do.”
Joe says that Templeton Properties is on a continual journey of improvement. “Theoretically, every building we build is better and better.” He states that it is somewhat akin to a manufacturer striving to improve on every product. “We look at our buildings in the same way. The architectural flair and the colours are going to be obviously different.”
The fundamentals, such as plumbing, electrical, communications, energy efficiency, and noise reduction systems “are built on through feedback on our operations side, so when we finish a building, and we occupy and manage it, we know what works well and what doesn’t work well. We take that information and improve on our next project.”
There are other essential factors for successful projects. “We’re not just builders. We don’t build and turn the keys over and walk away. We build, own, and manage [properties] for thirty or forty years as assets. So we have a very close continuity between development and operations, which is where a lot of chaos and confusion comes on development – that hand-over period.”
Since the company manages all aspects of projects in-house, it has “amazing systems that we’ve developed over the years in order to turn over developments to operations in a seamless manner.”
The construction industry is fraught with challenges. The project that was Templeton’s most challenging was the acquisition and redevelopment of property known as the South Village, located in the heart of Halifax, where Vuze Tower is.
The Vuze Tower was completely gutted and stripped down to bare concrete and completely refurbished. “We did that in a sequential manner that allowed the building to stay occupied on the floors that we haven’t turned over,” he says, explaining that usually four or five floors were vacated at a time to complete the construction.
“Doing all the work while keeping the building occupied and providing the same services to our clients throughout the process have been [the most fun] and most challenging part of any project that we’ve done.” The company plans an additional five buildings to be incorporated into the South Village project, the second of which began last July. The others have a commencement date scheduled for December 2019.
Halifax is undoubtedly a historic city. It was incorporated in 1841 and has older buildings within its landscape. Joe agrees that this historical significance should be retained but believes that an old building is not necessarily historical. He suggests that once a building reaches eighty years old, the city consider it historical, “irrespective of its state of repair or actual historic or architectural significance. Obviously, historically significant, architecturally significant properties that are in good condition should absolutely be retained and enhanced.”
Alternatively, structures that are not in good condition or have not been maintained, “should be given some support, I think, from the government to help them get to that level.” One has to consider that historic buildings were considered modern in their time. He is a big proponent of “creating history today.”
According to a Statistics Canada 2018 report, Nova Scotia’s population has grown for three consecutive years, and much of that growth can be attributed to immigration. “There’s been a huge immigration push in our province for the first time in the history of our province,” Joe explains. “That’s stirred up a population growth… That’s been probably the sole biggest [factor] that has given this economic boom.”
With this growth comes housing needs, particularly in the multi-residential arena. According to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), the rental vacancy rate in the city now rests at 1.6 percent, an all-time low. Immigration is certainly driving the demand for rental units, as is an ageing population looking to downsize, youth numbers climbing, and an improved economic landscape attracting workers. All of this leads to increased demand that will have to be met by developers.
As for the future of Templeton Properties, Joe shares that he “would like to finish these fourteen years of projects that I have approved. I’d like to see my kids come into the business hopefully by then, and pass the reins on to the third generation.”