Prioritizing Community and Quality of Life in the Course of Rapid Growth

Downing Street Group
Written by Pauline Müller

With creativity comes possibility, and that is exactly what one property leader in Ontario is creating by the truckload. Based in Toronto, Ontario, Downing Street Group is a Canadian trailblazer that gives new meaning to real estate market leadership. The company offers loans, investment opportunities, and commercial and residential leasing, and has a property development division that invests in new communities, often on rehabilitated land.

As a mortgage broker, mortgage administrator, investment manager, and proud member of the Canadian Home Builders Association, Downing Street Group is dynamic and financially strong. The company also operates as an exempt market dealer (EMD) and as such, it is authorized to offer investments for sale while conducting business. Therefore, the company is strictly regulated by its local financial services regulatory authority.

Downing Street Group’s real estate investment division offers three investment theses—research-and-analysis-supported rationales for specific investment strategies. Firstly, its commercial investment thesis comprises buying and restoring single-story flex office and light industrial facilities that are, once completed, returned to the market for leasing.

Secondly, its traditional development thesis typically covers purchasing contaminated brownfield lots in a radius stretching from Durham to Niagara across the Golden Horseshoe, the Southern Ontario region surrounding the western end of Lake Ontario. It then joins forces with a partner which remediates the land, allowing the company to secure and resell rehabilitated land approved by the Ministry of Environmental Affairs to developers. That is if it does not build on the land itself.

Thirdly, the company joins forces with one of several building partners to build, develop, and sell residential units. Its partners include Marydel Homes, Averton, and J.D. Development Group. Currently, there are nearly ten such projects in progress consisting of 2,000 low-rise, detached townhouses with some five-to-eight-storey buildings.

In addition, one of its properties in Etobicoke, an 11,000-square-foot co-working facility, has become a business incubator that is popular amongst new business owners for the excellent start-up opportunities it offers. Here, entrepreneurs can establish businesses that typically relocate to larger premises later. Downing Street Group also services building sites for third-party customers as it is an expert in a wide range of services.

There are several advantages to working with Downing. One of these is that the team readily shares advice and ideas with borrowers looking to buy properties with which the company has experience. Its in-house experts like environmental engineers, planners, and development and asset managers also can assist in reaching a final verdict as to whether or not a particular property is viable.

The company has a long history of visionary change-making since its founding by Daniel Odorico and another, now retired, Partner. It started as a restorer of class B office buildings in Toronto’s downtown area. Odorico was joined by Marc Canale, Partner and Chief Operating Officer, in 2011.

“The opportunity that you might find today may not be the opportunity tomorrow. There are so many segments of real estate to be in,” says Canale, noting that the company goes “where we see opportunity and we can add value. You have to evolve, and we follow where we believe the opportunity is.” And so, the firm often makes use of third-party investors to bring projects to life that benefit society in financially sound ways.

Its latest example of just how much its work benefits local communities is also one of its proudest projects, so far. The Laurentian Commons development is set on a brownfield site right in the middle of Kitchener-Waterloo. It boasts six hundred master-planned residential units alongside a mixed-use complex perfect for living and working. All of this spreads across twelve acres of beautiful land with easy access to a host of amenities such as stunning public parks and trails as well as retail and dining establishments. Getting to work and school is easy thanks to its strategic positioning and nearby transit stops.

As with all valuable real estate, its location is key to its value. “As the second-fastest-growing community in Canada, [Kitchener-Waterloo is] expected to reach a population of 742,000 by 2031. It is the tech hub of Canada with over 15,000 tech companies creating 200,000 jobs and sixteen surrounding universities and colleges,” says Mark Stirpe, Managing Director.

The development greatly enhanced the value of all the surrounding properties as it transformed a formerly unsightly, empty property into a thriving hive of activity. As a result, the city also benefits from increased property taxes. Ultimately, this development stands testimony to the huge contribution Downing Street’s teams have made to the community.

The flagship development was launched in collaboration with two of the company’s trusted and widely respected construction partners that are also members of the Canadian Home Builders Association (CHBA). Averton and J.D. Development Group were chosen for their tremendous experience and visionary approach to developments of this calibre.

“Laurentian Commons is a Downing Street community created for residents to enjoy surrounding parks and trails, shopping and dining, and employment opportunities. We wanted to bring vibrant community living to this area with this development, and we are proud to have achieved it,” Stirpe adds.

Downing Street Group’s team of around twenty-three people is as close-knit as a family, and Canale is open about how important its people are to one another. “I call them my second family. While they have very defined roles, there are a lot of touch points for various people,” across departments,” he says, noting that as a result, the company’s people are highly skilled due to the variety of fields in which its people operate.

“I think we provide people, especially young people, a real education in the real estate development business and the lending business very quickly. There is also very little repetition,” he continues. This is a company that makes a rewarding and healthy work environment a priority to benefit all of its staff members.

Naturally, this came into play in a big way when COVID-19 hit. Everyone pulled together like never before, and the rest is history. “I was worried for many of our tenants. But [they] did very well. We… did not have any defaults in our mortgage fund throughout COVID. Frankly, we are very proud of that achievement. We are frankly also proud of our borrowers that they sustained the blow of COVID and managed to [go] forward with their various properties,” Canale adds. Regardless of a couple of developments being shut down due to pandemic regulations, there were no major obstacles that came the company’s way during the crisis.

Downing Street Group has a big heart, and its teams love having fun with their charity work. Its generosity is based on a solid sense of responsibility toward those whose lives are affected most by its work. The supported charities are all local since the company is “local by nature. [We have our] feet on the street. Every asset that we own or mortgage that we currently have, we could drive to from our office within an hour or hour and a half,” Canale says.

One of its big focus points for giving back to the communities in which it thrives is in South Etobicoke, Ontario. Recently, the company partnered with the city in closing off a street to host an art festival where residents could celebrate locally produced art. Another time it welcomed people to a 1950s-style drive-in dining experience complete with servers on roller skates bringing food to visitors in their cars.

The company also supports internationally known medical aid organization Global Medic, which is headquartered in Etobicoke. “During COVID-19, we donated a 35,000-square-foot building of ours for their use so they could use it as a distribution warehouse,” says Canale.

But it is not just this city that benefits from the company’s generosity. Others, including Toronto, are also blessed with its strong involvement in community work. The company offers bursaries at St. Michael’s College School as well as significant support to Ve’ahavta. This Jewish charity performs social services to anyone in need, irrespective of religion or culture, by supplying the basic needs of the less fortunate from its offices at Chesswood Drive 1, Toronto.

Back at the Downing Street office, company leadership is set to make the best of future market trends. Despite obvious challenges, Canale hopes that the housing market’s current prohibitive pricing spike will correct itself for the sake of first-time buyers. In terms of the existing housing shortage, he refers to the January 2022 Scotia Bank Report noting that of all the G7 countries, Canada has the biggest housing shortage, with Ontario in the lead.

To this end, the company is committed to continuing to meet the demand in the Canadian housing market with expert knowledge and superb service. Canale is confident that the team is always ready and prepared to meet its next opportunity. “All our services complement each other. We take a sense of pride in [what we do.] When, generally speaking, people [are putting their] largest investment into [your work], you want to feel good that they feel good,” he says with a smile.

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