(A version of this article first appeared in Ottawa Business Journal, http://www.obj.ca/Opinion/Bruce-Firestone-5444)
It isn’t very often you get to use these two words in one
sentence—developer and environmentalist—but it would be accurate when
describing Ottawa-based Windmill Developments founder Jonathan Westeinde,
winner a few years ago of OBJ’s 40 Under 40 award. Mr. Westeinde brings not
only a passion for LEED-platinum buildings, but a financial acumen to match. He
pioneered the idea that condominiums in his LEED-certified structures might
cost more to build, but don’t have to be priced that way. How did he manage
He arranges loans to his future condominium corporations from
a French lender (repaid over seven years) that cover additional capital costs
attributable to LEED certification. So higher construction costs are paid for
in monthly condo fees, but some or all of those additional monthly payments are
offset by lower costs of operating these types of buildings.
Consumers obviously like what they see—Windmill has projects
on-going in Toronto (Union Lofts), Whitewater Village (in Beachburg where
Wilderness Tours is based), Cathedral Hill and The Eddy (in Ottawa) plus Zibi,
on the old Domtar lands, partly in Ontario and partly in Quebec.
Of these current projects, most important to Ottawa citizens
is Zibi, a 37-acre, $1.5 billion brownfield development minutes from the
Parliamentary precinct, and adjacent to Lebreton Flats where the NCC has (at
least so far) created another no-place.
“Zibi” means river in Algonquin, and since the site is along
the Algonquin Trail and was part of their traditional lands, the new community
will have way finding signage in three languages—English, French and Algonquin,
Zibi is Ottawa’s answer to Vancouver’s Granville Island, a
shopping and entertainment destination, and one of B.C.’s top tourist
attractions. The difference is that Zibi will also have extensive housing
options—from low-rise towns to midrise/highrise condo towers.
I walked the site with Mr. Westeinde, 46, in April 2015, and
his enthusiasm for the project was palpable.
The site is spectacular, and the spring
roaring of Chaudière Falls reminds one of how powerful and magical the Ottawa
River is. How did he secure this unique site in the heart of a G8 capital?
“We never get involved in a situation where highest price
wins. We are interested in talking to landowners who are looking out for a
triple bottom line—profitability, environmental sustainability and societal
gains. In other words, they are receptive to our approach, which brings higher total value… One of our team members
(Rodney Wilts) lives in Chelsea and has to take the Chaudière crossing to get
to our office (in Westboro). After riding his bike in to work one day, he tells
me to take a look at the Domtar lands and we did.”
To take on a project this size, Mr. Westeinde knew he would
need a partner—one with patient capital, an oxymoron if ever there was one. But
he found it in Toronto-based Dundee Real Estate Asset Management, more commonly
known by their short-form name, DREAM. They manage more than $14 billion in real
property in North America and Europe, and were one of the original partners in
the development of Toronto’s Distillery Historic District, which opened in 2003,
and is an arts, culture and entertainment destination.
“They were my first choice,” Mr. Westeinde says. “Not just
because they could bring patient money, but because there was a cultural fit.
From our first meeting with (DREAM CEO) Michael Cooper to agreement was an
unheard of (for Canada) 30 days. They are a large entity, it’s true, but still
very entrepreneurial, and somehow they match up well with our 40-person shop.
“You know you have a good partner when it’s minus 25
(Celsius) on DREAM’s first three visits, and yet they still want to proceed,”
Jonathan adds with a smile.
The partnership is 50/50 but there are incentives for
Windmill, which may allow them to do better than that.
Mr. Westeinde is a family man with three daughters, ages 14,
13 and 9. He is a marathon runner and hopes to quality for Boston so he can
keep pace with (OBJ owner) Mark Sutcliffe. He met his wife when he was studying
in Dublin at Trinity College where he received his MBA. She wasn’t a student
though—she was on assignment there with Corel Corporation.
“Her Corel expense account was a lot higher than a starving
student’s,” Mr. Westeinde says with a laugh. “When she took me out to see a
play at a local theatre, that was it… I knew I wanted to marry her.”
Jonathan comes from a family involved in construction and
development for a long time. His father, John, put him to work in construction
at the family-owned firm (now part of Aecon Construction) at age 12. He didn’t
like it—too slow to adopt new technology. He wanted to be a marine biologist,
but after reading a book (Natural Capitalism:
Creating the Next Industrial Revolution by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and L.
Hunter Lovins), he realized he could team up with his brother, Jeff, and they
could create more value by bringing green tech to the real estate development
industry. There’s green in green.
Their goal is to be the most sustainable and green urban
developer in Canada, which is like saying you want to be the fastest tortoise;
i.e., there isn’t much competition. Most companies just use greenwashing.
Remember Rick Mercer’s One Tonne
Challenge*? The most profound advice that initiative had for Canadians was
to turn off the tap while brushing your teeth**.
I ask Mr. Westeinde about the NCC’s Lebreton Flats
development. He is careful and circumspect in his answer, “Zibi will be well
underway by the time the next phase of Lebreton proceeds, but we are big
supporters of the balance of their lands being developed to basically fill in
the hole in the donut. If the Sens (Ottawa Senators) relocate there, that would
be fantastic, and would allow Ottawa to catch up to the demonstrated success of
urban arenas in many other downtowns. Lebreton and Zibi were once the centre of
industry and activity when Ottawa was a young city, and it’s vital that we both
succeed in restoring the area.”
Bruce M Firestone, PhD, Ottawa Senators founder, Century 21
Explorer Realty broker. Follow him on twitter @profbruce
* More about Rick Mercer, Go Green! Live Closer to Where You Work! at http://www.eqjournal.org/?p=870
** More about Green for Real at http://profbruce.tumblr.com/post/68061191187/greening-your-home-for-real-here-are-some-green
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