In the last year, industrial developer Ryan Beedie has moved into the more precarious world of residential development.
When asked why he'd bother, Mr. Beedie, who already oversees $1-billion in industrial real estate assets, agrees that it's partly due to one simple reason. He's bored.
"Absolutely," he says, without hesitation, straightening up in his boardroom seat. "You are absolutely right. 'What's this shiny thing over here?' Absolutely. We have also expanded industrial into Alberta – we have quite a few projects now going on in Calgary. Again, why do that? Good question. Because it's fun – it's a new experience."
If Vancouverites didn't know the low-profile Mr. Beedie before, they're sure to get to know him in the next couple of years. As the leaseholder of Kingsgate Mall, he plans to redevelop the humble shopping mall in the heart of Vancouver's Main Street area, beginning next year. Mr. Beedie is deeply aware of the controversy that dogged Will Lin, owner and developer of Rize Alliance, whose rezoning plan for a 19-storey, 241-unit residential tower at Kingsway and Broadway was approved after months of heated opposition.
"I don't know what was done there, but people were really upset," says Mr. Beedie. "Even now, there seems to be some hard feelings. But we would go to painstaking efforts to avoid such an outcome."
The 43-year-old president of the Beedie Group has been with his dad Keith's Burnaby-based company since 1993, after earning his undergrad at Simon Fraser University, and his MBA at the University of B.C. He oversees 8 million square feet of industrial land, and in the last year, he has turned his attention to developing residential towers, such as Burnaby's five-tower Station Square and Coquitlam's 89-acre Fraser Mills.
The Beedie Group is one of the biggest developers in Canada, but Mr. Beedie has been operating mostly under the radar. He got noticed when he and Tom Gaglardi unsuccessfully sued the Aquilini Group for purchasing the Vancouver Canucks in 2004. All three parties had been negotiating for the team, but Francesco Aquilini eventually brokered his own, separate deal. Mr. Beedie garnered more favorable media coverage last year when, inspired by philanthropists, Toronto's Seymour Schulich and Vancouver's Joe Segal, he and his father donated $22-million to his alma mater, SFU.
Once the consultation process begins for Kingsgate, the spotlight will be trained on him again. Kingsgate is the mall that time forgot. Although it is central and surrounded by $1-million homes, its tired, rust-coloured décor is classic 1970s. However, the mall does have its charms precisely because it is so out of touch, such as the shop with the shoes that only a drag queen could love.
The Vancouver School Board owns the property, but the Beedie Group owns the lease, which has about 60 years on it. Mr. Beedie envisions a mixed-use development that would, like the Rize Alliance tower, add to the area's density. Judging by the Rize Alliance experience, the contentious issue will be the question of height.
"We are paying rent based on the existing structure, and that's all fine, but there's a lot of density there that isn't being taken advantage of," says Mr. Beedie. "If we could both benefit from the value, it could be redeployed for building new schools or renovating existing schools. I'm sure [the school board] has extensive uses for capital.
"I would see it as being a combination of residential towers and a brand new food anchored mall, so yes, mixed use."
If we go all the way back to the early days, it isn't Beedie Group's first time building residential.
Mr. Beedie's father, Keith, who is 86 and still goes to work every day, began by building homes back in the 1950s and 1960s, including three of the PNE prize homes. He went on to create a vertical business model that involved developing, building, leasing out and managing industrial land. The Beedie Group has roughly 100 employees in the field, including carpenters, labourers and other trades required for building out industrial space.
"My dad created this amazing integrated model that no other company in the city really followed, and I just scaled it. I took his structure and wrapped it up. I was very aggressive on the land acquisition side," says Mr. Beedie.
"One thing I love about my dad is he is older, more conservative, and yet he didn't hold me back from all the things I wanted to do."
In the boardroom, there is a big aerial map of the Lower Mainland with little red squares that represent each of their projects. Mr. Beedie knows the details of each one by heart, even deals he made years ago. He describes himself as having borderline attention deficit disorder, unable to sit still without doing something he finds interesting, or having music or the television playing in the background.
"I always have to have an escape hatch. Any trip I go on I have to have a back-up plan, because my biggest fear is being bored. I [have] a constant need for a stimulation high," says Mr. Beedie, sipping from a can of Coke, looking about a decade younger than he is. He's been known to follow the band U2 from city to city, which isn't something you might expect from the father of three teenagers.
Perhaps because his company is so successful, and Mr. Beedie is restless to try new things, it has gone further into left field in recent years. They've dipped into music and yoga as co-investors in Nettwerk Music Group and Yyoga. And because of Keith Beedie's passion for science fiction, they were even footing the bill for TV sci-fi show Sanctuary for several years, until they simply couldn't justify the expense.
"We will never do another TV show again," says Mr. Beedie. "We lost a lot of money. But it could generate income over time, because we have the library," he adds, hopefully.
He's thankful that phase is over, and he can return his complete attention to development. He's sold out all 269 units in the first tower of Metrotown's Station Square, a five-tower project that will sit on 12 acres and set the record for the area's highest tower, at 59 stories. The project is in partnership with Anthem Properties, and marks one of the early ventures for the Beedie Group's residential arm, Beedie Living.
"We are very fortunate with the success of the business and there is a lot of income that's been generated," he explains. "We need to redeploy that and reinvest it, and there are only so many opportunities that exist in the industrial market in Vancouver.
"Either we buy government bonds or try to grow the business, which is way more fun."