As an added draw for wannabe urbanites, the buildings are being designed to LEED standards. Among other things, condo and office buildings will be heated and cooled by water pumped through a community-wide system of pipes. And while Rudy Bratty doesn't seem quite sure what LEED stands for-he calls it "leads" during our interview-he and the company are singing a new tune (if a bit awkwardly: "We became involved with the environment," he says).
So far, the residential part of the development has been a hit, even as condo sales slow amid the economic slump. The first two condo buildings sold out within a day, and sale prices have been solidly 10% to 20% above the local average: between $340 and $350 a square foot, or about $350,000 for a 1,000-square-foot apartment. "We expected it to be successful," Bratty says. "We didn't expect people to line up outside." Drawing in commercial and retail tenants has been a much tougher sell. Chris Bratty says it's hard for many store owners to imagine not having a big parking lot out front. Commercial offices have also been much slower-and that was even before the dreaded "R" word crept into the news. For his part, Bratty claims to be more or less unfazed by the current slowdown. "Sure, the sales will not be as aggressive as we anticipated," he says, "but we are moving forward with the project." The current townhouse and mid-rise condos, with just over 1,000 units total, are now 95% sold, he says, and construction continues. He does admit, however, that plans to build more office space will likely be axed. For the moment, a 350,000-square-foot phase, including a grocery store and a movie theatre, is still slated for completion in 2011.
Downtown Markham could even grow, seeing as local and regional planners (backed by the province) consider Markham to be a prime site for denser development. "I wouldn't be surprised if the project actually doubled in size-at least the residential part," Rudy says, which would push back the completion date, and potentially mean more ups and downs. "I've experienced downturns at the top of each decade," he says, "and in 2000 that didn't happen; we didn't get the turn until 2008. We figure we'll go through a couple more of these before it's finished."
The mastermind behind Downtown Markham may not be around to see that. After all, 2025 is a long way away.
That's where the next generation comes in. "The boys," as Bratty calls them, all have leadership roles in the family enterprise. Chris, 41, heads Remington's land development division. The eldest son, Matthew, 43, heads the low-rise housing division. Mike, the youngest, at 39, oversees Remington's recently formed high-rise division and its commercial properties (along with his Uncle Jerry). And Mark Bratty, 42, oversees "special projects," Rudy says, which includes a tile-supply business.
The five Brattys meet at the end of every business day to compare notes. And every Sunday, the entire clan gathers for dinner at the modest bungalow in Etobicoke that Donato built in 1967 and where Rudy raised his family (though he says he and Cathie are now building a massive home in the suburbs).
Chris says their closeness will help them overcome the hurdles that often trip up family businesses. "We have a common goal, which is to stay together," he says. "We're a very tight-knit family."
For now, their work is all coming together in Downtown Markham. But Rudy "is definitely hands-on," Mike says. "We have the luxury where he relies on us to look at the details-but he's here all day Saturday. I definitely go over every document with him."
This is deliberate, Rudy says: Remington is no longer a one-man operation at the top. But Chris will clearly be the next leader. Today, he functions as chief operating officer, and he talks earnestly about the benefits of LEED, the future of suburban retail, and why mixed-use communities are the future of development. In other words, Rudy has set the course that his kids will follow for the next two decades. Which makes sense: In today's development world, Rudy says, "what we used to do in six months takes six years." And he's confident that the Downtown Markham properties will continue to command a premium-and generate substantial profits.
But will he quit? The transition, Chris says, could take a while. "He's the consummate workaholic. He doesn't ever stop."
Rudy doesn't argue with that: When asked whether he's planning to retire, the patriarch just bursts out laughing. "I like living too much," he says. "I'm convinced that if you want to shorten your life, you quit work. I'm 76, and there's no way I'm stopping."