Creating Transformative Communities

Republic Developments
Written by Pauline Müller

Social responsibility is a big deal. Prominent Miami architect Laurinda Spear of Arquitectonica recently said that, if every construction company went into a new area committed to strengthening and empowering society’s most vulnerable people, the world would become a much better place…

Bringing tenacity, curiosity, and hard-earned experience to the industry, Matt Young, President and Chief Executive Officer of Republic Developments, may be a new name in Toronto’s highly competitive property development market, but don’t be fooled; he’s been a rising star and has now branched off on his own, looking to make his mark in some of the city’s oldest communities.

His business philosophy is tethered to doing good and leaving the city better off than he found it, taking on projects he sees as being city-building opportunities. He believes that, by going into any project with an attitude of only reaping as much money as possible from it, developers are less likely to invest in the health and wellness of communities. “When we think about success in a project, we recognize it has to be a financially successful project… but it also has to contribute positively to the community. It has to be an addition and a benefit, not just something that takes away or utilizes what the community already has,” he says.

“It has to add something that all of the stakeholders—local residents, politicians, city staff, purchasers, our team—can feel proud of.”

When it comes to challenging projects, Republic Developments does not shy away from complexity. “We see ourselves as the developer who takes on the most complicated, challenging projects and over-performs. We’re very focused on execution excellence. We’re ambitious. We focus on the details,” says Young. “I’ve jokingly described us as the Navy SEALs of development. You bring us in when the problem is particularly challenging, and we execute.”

His passion for property became evident during a summer vacation from university, when he was a labourer working for an uncle doing property renovations. The results of his hard work sold Young on exploring a career in the property industry where his knack for analytical and creative thinking could bring more of this to life. As he had been particularly fond of architecture since childhood, exploring real estate became the obvious next step. After graduating from Western and eventually completing a post-graduate qualification in property development, he was offered his first position in 2009.

Young joined one of Canada’s leading firms, Lifetime Developments, known for its high-rise buildings of 200 to 800 units across as many as fifty storeys. He learned everything he could by removing “no” from his vocabulary, working as hard as possible, and treating his time there as on-the-job training. He then leveraged his experience to secure his next role with Capital Developments, where he continued learning and establishing a track record and reputation for himself in the industry.

His aim in searching for these positions was to find companies executing large, challenging projects with a small team because, he figured, he would get the most exposure and gain the most experience this way. In both cases these “were big, impactful, high-profile projects that I got to experience at [companies] where there was a small and lean team, so I was able to touch and explore most parts of the business,” Young says. “We were doing great architecture, working with incredible consultants, and I was able to work with the best people in Toronto [and] have a meaningful impact.”

Following his tenure at Capital Developments, Young was eventually ready and fully equipped to become the leader of his own development company.

Today, Matthew Young is a dynamic leader who brings a tremendous energy to everything he does. Navigating a newly formed company during COVID was a daunting task but by hiring a team of bright young minds with whom Young could establish his vision and requirements for excellence, combined with some seasoned industry experts, he struck upon a winning outcome. With eight people on staff and more joining soon, Republic Developments is off to a strong start and growing rapidly.

The fledgling business purchases difficult-to-develop plots with multiple challenges, and one such plot is in Scarborough, near where Young grew up. He went looking at sites to purchase in the area and found one he passed on his school route every day as a teenager.

As fate would have it, the well-hidden site was ripe for development. It is supremely located adjacent to the Scarborough GO station on a line giving access to areas in all directions, and is only an 18-minute ride away from downtown Toronto. After buying four-and-a-half acres of land surrounding the plot, Young managed to get the owner of the neighbouring 20-acre plot to agree to a sale at the end of January 2020. The property came with its own needs, however; environmental contamination, zoning challenges, and other issues have made the development of the property difficult.

Yet, armed with knowledge and expertise, the Republic team knew that this property was ready to be transformed into a 15-minute community with all the amenities that have historically been out of reach for those without cars. The vision for the site is of beautiful buildings overlooking parks and public spaces, with views to Lake Ontario, and access to a new community centre, daycare, a direct connection to a new GO Station, and everything else needed to create a thriving and complete urban hub.

The project is ambitious in an area known to be one of the larger food deserts in Toronto—something the company has plans to remedy by including a new grocery store. Now, all that is needed is zoning permission before it will establish what is likely to be the best thing that has happened to this part of town in a long time.

“In the development industry, I probably know Scarborough better than anyone,” says Young. “It’s has had bad PR over the years… but I know that was absolute nonsense. Cities change and evolve over time with investment, and Scarborough had seen very little investment for decades.” Once on a roll, Scarborough Junction will be one of the biggest developments in the Greater Toronto Area. As an experienced industry player, Young knows that a neighbourhood’s story can be changed, and who better to initiate it?

Another up-and-coming project, Bellwoods House, a 13-storey brick and glass gem comprising 322 units at 111 Strachan Avenue, Toronto, will be a promising addition to this verdant section of the city. The vision with this project is to create a livable and stylish community catering to urban tastemakers, entrepreneurs, and professionals who love being downtown, but want a real neighbourhood feel.

“Given that it is my first project, I wanted to do something timeless—something people would want to live in. We want something that when it is built and finished, will be a very desirable place to live,” Young says. A lot of unexpected detail and little luxuries will enhance the condominiums’ impact. They will be so lovely that Young plans to live there himself.

“The first project we do sets the tone for our brand and for the types of buildings we build, our quality and our reputation,” he adds. Some of Bellwoods House’s best features, perhaps, are the unobstructed skyline and sunset views and access to over a dozen beautiful parks within walking distance—including Trinity Bellwoods Park—only a short walk away. The building will also integrate a gorgeous heritage structure that will add character and romance to this modern but contextual design. But there are also little touches of details that can be found throughout the building. A lobby scenting system will ensure the building smells like a 5-star hotel at all times. Smart technology throughout the building including smart locks, thermostat, and light switch for suites, smart security, and a building app will ensure the lived experience for residents is as seamless and effortless as possible.

Sheltered at the calm centre of these parks, the building is only a five-minute walk from four of Toronto’s liveliest neighbourhoods, namely King West, Queen West, Ossington, and Liberty Village. Retail space, a D.I.Y. bike mechanic shop, a pet spa, co-working space, a podcast studio, and a high-end gym are also on offer at Bellwoods House.

1266 Queen Street West, to be situated in Parkdale, is the company’s next big project, and this is another area of Toronto that has not seen much investment in a while. Republic Developments is champing at the bit to turn this land into another thriving community. Its approach to this project is to leverage the assets that already exist, like an adjacent park, and expand on them to improve the condition for the local community and residents alike. The company will also be creating a community space within the building to serve local residents, though the use of this space is still being determined. To date, public engagement has been positive, with the community recognizing investment in new housing needs to happen, and the team is excited to help shape the future of this gateway to Parkdale.

Young’s choice of the term “city builder” to describe Republic is purposeful, and reflects his philosophy on investing in and improving the communities in which he builds. And sometimes, these investments are in people and organizations that are doing their part to strengthen communities.

Since meeting the founder of FEED Scarborough, Suman Roy, shortly after purchasing the land for Scarborough Junction, Young and his team have seen an opportunity for an important partnership that has helped strengthen and provide support to this evolving community. Roy established the charity to help answer the need for food security that exploded in the wake of COVID-19. Republic Developments supports the effort by giving the charity an industrial warehouse from which the charity’s main distribution depot operates.

In addition, Young came up with the idea of funding urban farming with raised vegetable beds on the property, which Roy established with the help of volunteers. “It’s become an outdoor events space, which was particularly exciting during COVID. The food that was grown went into food boxes that the food bank was handing out to families in Scarborough,” Young says.

The benefit generated from this initiative goes beyond feeding people, however; the site is also farming honey, children are learning how to cultivate their own gardens, and many friendships have been and continue to be born around this marvellous community project.

“As we gear up for eventual development on that property, we will look at moving [the initiative] to [another] location on the site over time. In a perfect world, we will find a long-term home for them in the community. They are incredible people doing great work,” Young says of the project that has grown into six food banks and numerous other programmes since its inception.

In addition to this good work, the company also supports Scarborough Health Network through Young’s work on their real estate committee raising money for the Love Scarborough campaign. He also has a cycling club, UNC, which commits itself to popularizing cycling in Toronto. As an avid cyclist, growing this network is one of Young’s greatest pleasures.

Republic Developments is also looking into establishing its own charity that will work toward providing affordable housing in and around the city. “Obviously, we want to be successful but I care about people,” he says. “I love this city. I grew up here. I want to see the city grow and thrive. But it needs help. It needs investment. It needs support, so I am doing what I can to fill some of the holes I see,” Young says of what he considers to be his moral obligation and his burgeoning company’s trademark.

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