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Q&A on Alberta developer shifting gears to build in Victoria with Namrita Rattan of Aquila Pacific

Namrita Rattan of development firm Aquila Pacific answers questions about an Alberta builder/developer switching gears to build in Greater Victoria, along with the challenges and benefits of leveraging operations from one province to another. Citified.ca

Q&A on Alberta developer shifting gears to build in Victoria with Namrita Rattan of Aquila Pacific
Ten on the 10th
Citified's Ten on the 10th is a monthly question-and-answer segment connecting our readers with the insight and knowledge of Victoria's top real-estate and business professionals.
 
Ten on the 10th's March, 2022 segment features Namrita Rattan, Co-founder and CFO at Victoria-based real-estate development firm Aquila Pacific, and Alberta-based construction company Eagle Crest Construction. Aquila Pacific is currently developing a condominium project in Langford known as The Lookout, and has additional projects planned for Esquimalt.
 
Click here to view a list of former Ten on the 10th Q&As.
 
Asking the questions is Ross Marshall, Senior Vice President of the Victoria offices of commercial real-estate brokerage CBRE. As a leader in facilitating large-scale commercial real-estate transactions throughout the Capital Region – which include apartment complexes, industrial retail and office properties, and land/development opportunities – Ross and his team are at the forefront of market-leading real-estate transactions on Vancouver Island.
 
Would you like to be featured as part of a future Ten on the 10th Q&A? We'd love to hear from you.
 
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Aquila Pacific is a storied development firm, but it's new to the south Island market. Can you fill us in on the history of Aquila, and how its development activities position it as one of the Capital's busiest development firms?
Aquila Pacific is a British Columbia-based development company focused on development and construction of multi-family projects. It is an extension of our Alberta division known as Eagle Crest Construction.
 
As a company, we are a family-owned and founded business that prides itself on delivering quality projects and enhancing the communities that we develop in. We are a vertically integrated company, meaning we perform all of the construction management for our projects.  We feel that this allows us to control our costs and put a focus on quality designs, finishes and systems into our construction process. These are things that have been key ingredients to our growth over the past 10 years.  We have completed over 30 projects throughout Alberta and British Columbia, including single-family-homes, townhomes, mixed-use multi-family buildings, and over 200,000 square feet of commercial space.
 
Currently in Greater Victoria, we are working on four projects which are in different stages.  Two are purpose-built rental developments in Esquimalt (both with affordable housing components), one is a condominium project in Langford called The Lookout, and another is in the planning stage as a condominium project in Esquimalt.
 
With your roots in Alberta, what focused your attention on Greater Victoria's housing market?
We’ve loved Victoria and the Capital Regional District for a long time, and our business plan is to diversify our holdings beyond Alberta with the next stage of our business being focused on expansion into a new market.
 
The partners and I all spend a fair amount of time in BC, so this felt like a natural fit. We identified both Kelowna and Greater Victoria as having good growth potential and longevity, so we have focused our attention on both markets. From a business standpoint, Greater Victoria expresses strong economies. The demand for housing is evident and the downstream values can support the work required to deliver new homes.
 
We see the Greater Victoria market as a young, active, vibrant community with so many exciting development opportunities that can have an impact on the future. And Victoria is no longer just a place where you go to university, and leave thereafter until returning for retirement, which was the trend in previous decades. More commerce is moving to the Island, the culture and work opportunities are attracting a younger workforce, and we see a demand for housing that will be here for the long term. Our vision is to bring exciting, innovative developments that can help enhance the housing growth and demand we are seeing in these communities.
 
We often hear how the south Island real-estate market is different than markets in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. Can you speak to some of the differences you've experienced so far?
I would say the barriers to entry on the south Island are more challenging than the market conditions we have seen in Alberta. Trade and contractor access in Alberta is more readily available and there are constantly new development lands being made available. I think it is easier for a developer to pick up and do a project in Calgary, than it is to come to the Island and expect to plug-and-play with the existing industry. 
 
I believe most developers from the Canadian mainland do not realize that there are so many municipalities in Greater Victoria, with different permitting and rezoning policies.  We have a great deal of experience in assembling land and rezoning, so it has been interesting to educate ourselves when we look at new land in different municipalities across Greater Victoria. Aligning ourselves with strong local consultants and partners has really added value to our team, and in reality these challenging barriers to entry are one of the things that really excited us about this markets.  
 
We view ourselves as an agile hands-on developer, that will roll up its sleeves. Whether it is a tricky development site or challenging entitlement process, our success is being active in every step of our developments with a strong focus on community engagement.  To-date we have had really good experiences across all of our developments.
 
How about some advantages to developing in this region, over other markets you've delivered housing in? And are there local disadvantages, or perhaps challenges, that are not as pronounced elsewhere?
The market demand that we are experiencing in this region far exceeds what we have experienced in our Alberta developments over the past five-plus years.  The offset to this demand is the challenge in delivering/constructing projects. This a very busy market, with a limited labour supply and we are not the only company with a bullish view on Greater Victoria.  
 
Many of our peers are larger and have been operating in this region for far longer. With that, we have been working hard over the past two years to develop strong working relationships with the municipalities where our projects reside and spending a lot of time developing relationships with consultants and trades that are a good fit for our projects. We are a relationship-based development firm and view ourselves working in Greater Victoria for many years to come.
 
You have quite a bit of activity planned in Esquimalt, including two rental buildings and a condominium project. What makes you so bullish on this municipality?
We believe that Esquimalt has the potential to transform into a vibrant walkable main street district that will complement Victoria’s downtown core. Our projects all reside in a high density corridor that will see lower density single-family-homes transformed into 10 and 12-storey buildings. We expect to see this increase in density attract retailers and exciting restaurants to the area which will benefit not only the district we are developing in, but also the lower density nodes throughout Esquimalt. Its proximity to the core of Victoria positions it well to becoming a very exciting community.
 
Your Lookout condominium project near Florence Lake in Langford has been selling exceptionally well. What's the driver, or drivers, behind your amazing success with your inaugural project in Greater Victoria?
We are very excited with the market’s response to the project. Since receiving our disclosure in mid-December, we have sold 90 of Lookout’s 130 units.  Obviously, the market as a whole is preforming well at the moment, but we believe the offering that is provided at Lookout has a strong value proposition. Compared to what you would typically find in downtown, our units provide larger living space at a more affordable price per square foot, and yet the finishings and amenity package are comparable to many of the buildings in the city centre.
 
The project is positioned on a unique site that will provide an extremely picturesque environment for residents, with access to many natural amenities rarely found so close to the city.
 
In addition to your projects in Greater Victoria, where else on Vancouver Island, or in BC, do you have upcoming developments?
Outside of Greater Victoria, our British Columbia focus is on the Kelowna market.
 
What can we expect to see among your projects that harkens back to Alberta, or will you be incorporating more of a west coast style to your architecture and designs?
Where we can find savings in our construction process, we focus on investing that back into both the architectural design of our buildings as well as the interior finishes and amenities. 
 
When you look at what we have presented in our Langford project, it fits the area well, complements the natural layout of the site, but is certainly more modern and contemporary than some of the true west coast design that you can find throughout other projects in the area.
 
Our Esquimalt projects will have an emphasis on functionality and amenities that we feel are important to inner city living. We have a strong focus on utilizing technology to enhance the experience of our customers. 
 
What's next for Aquila Pacific in Victoria and in BC?
First and foremost, we are concentrating on the execution and delivery of our upcoming projects in Langford and Esquimalt. As the ‘new kid in town,’ we look forward to continuing to get our name out there and develop more involvement within the community. In terms of upcoming projects, we are working on completing the rezoning and permits for our next project in Esquimalt, and outside of the region, we’ll be announcing an exciting new condominium project in Kelowna in late 2022 or early 2023.
  
I understand that you'll be bringing over your own construction crews from Alberta to Victoria. Can you speak to the advantages of doing this, and some considerations for other companies who may be looking to do something similar for their local projects?
As a vertically integrated company, we have transferred several key personnel (including company ownership) to Victoria, but these roles would consist of existing employees on our construction management team. We wanted part of our core group in Victoria to have experience in our systems, etc, and it was not hard to convince them to establish roots on the Island! I know I, personally, am looking forward to spending more time on the Island.
 
In terms of trades, I would say that a majority of our sub-trades to-date are local to the Island.  There has been a lot of value add with the local knowledge that our trade partners have provided us to-date as well. Where we have struggled is with labour shortages. In these cases, we have looked to utilize existing relationships we have from the Lower Mainland and Alberta. Bringing in trades from outside to the Island poses its own challenges as the housing market is so tight. That being said, we have been extremely pleased with all the local relationships we have made to-date, and plan to work with local trade partners whenever possible.

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 Article resources

  • Would you like to be featured as part of a future Ten on the 10th Q&A? We'd love to hear from you
  • View CBRE Victoria's website here
  • To receive exclusive investment opportunities from CBRE’s Investment Properties Group, opt in here
  • View Aquila Pacific's website here
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