Today we’re buzzing with David Wex, a partner at Urban Capital Property Group. Torontonians are sure to recognize Urban Capital’s name as they’ve been in on the ground floor of some of the city’s most cutting edge projects (just take a look at River City Phase 1 and Phase 2).
They were building in the King-Spadina area before it was hot and recognized the great potential of the West Donlands waterfront. We shoot the breeze with David about River City, the famous “Montreal phenomenon” and the virtues of being a lifelong Apple user.
BuzzBuzzHome: Where did you attend school before you got into the development industry?
David Wex: I went to U of T for computer science back in the early 80s. I did law after that.
BBH: How did you go from computer science and law to development?
DW: Well I was always interested in development and architecture. I practiced law for about a year at a big firm but then I left. It took me a couple years to get going, but I got involved with a project in the late 90s called Camden Lofts with Dundee Realty through someone I knew. It was about 50 units on Camden Street, in the King and Spadina area. It was done before the zoning was in place for residential down there.
We knew the King-Spadina rezoning would be coming down the pipeline soon, so we did Camden Lofts with special city approval. Along with 29 Niagara, it was one of the first projects in that downtown area. We got started with that and did a few more projects in Toronto and then we expanded to Montreal and Ottawa.
BBH: You’re working on River City at the moment. What are the most interesting attributes of this project?
DW: River City was a project that was a public bid by Waterfront Toronto that we went after. It was a tough site because it was in a part of the city that no one really knew about and had been cut off for a long time. And in addition, it wasn’t the most accessible location. So it was a tough site to start, but it had a lot of potential and there’s been a lot of public investment into it.
We went after it and we put together a pretty great team based around the architecture firm Saucier+Perrotte that I knew about from Montreal. They’d never really done a multi-unit residential project, least of all in Toronto so I knew they’d bring a fresh, unique style to it.
We won that bid back in 2008, but then there were some issues with Waterfront Toronto being unable to deliver the site to us and they were delayed for about a year. We launched in 2009 and pretty well sold it out and we got going with it earlier this year. Now phase 1 is under construction and we’ve designed phase 2. When it comes up it won’t look like anything else in the city.
BBH: You mentioned the area had a lot of potential. Do you think it’s one of the up and coming neighbourhood for the city?
DW: Definitely. It was launched before anyone could really see the infrastructure was coming in. To get in on the ground floor on that you had to buy into the vision and a lot of people did. I think you’ll see an area of high architectural quality developing there because all the projects have gone through Waterfront Toronto’s architectural screening. All the architectural firms are of a really high class, so there’s really high standards for design and sustainability. That whole area will be very forward thinking.
BBH: Urban Capital just started publishing a yearly magazine. Tell us more about the vision behind that.
DW: We wanted to keep all of our purchasers and anyone interested in us up-to-date on what we’re doing and all the things that effect us. For instance, the first issue talks about our Trends in Design series with a really unique group of designers from industrial design, fashion, architecture and interior design. It also talks about the West Donlands and how it got planned. It’s a general interest magazine related to stuff we do.
BBH: In your letter from the editor in the magazine you talk about the Montreal Phenomenon. It sounds pretty cool, could you elaborate?
DW: A lot of Montreal designers have been landing jobs in Toronto. By bringing Saucier+Perrotte here, I think we were on the vanguard of bringing designers from that city to Toronto and getting them into the Toronto market. It’s bringing a different perspective and sensibility to our city right from Montreal.
BBH: What’s going on for you guys in Montreal right now?
DW: We’re looking at a new site right now which will have a very interesting commercial component. It’s not in place yet though. Our first Montreal project sold out and did very well, but it had some issues with construction. We’re finishing dealing with those issues, so we’re just starting to be able turning our attention to this new site. We’re hoping to get in place to launch in the Spring or the Fall.
BBH: Do you travel back and forth between Montreal and Toronto often?
DW: Absolutely. We also have a very big presence in Ottawa. We’re probably one of the largest condo developers in Ottawa.
BBH: Are you flying Porter? Taking the bus? Driving back and forth?
DW: I’m definitely not taking the bus *laughs*. I usually fly Porter. Sometimes I get on a morning flight and I’m back in Toronto for a mid-afternoon meeting. It’s like the same amount of time commuting from suburban Toronto.
BBH: Are you more or a winter guy or a summer guy?
DW: I’m a winter guy! I’m big into skiing.
BBH: Are you an Apple user or PC user?
DW: I’ve never used a PC in my life. I wouldn’t even know how to get on it. I’ve never used a Blackberry either.
BBH: Just Macintosh computers then?
DW: Yup, ever since the 80s! I’m an original Apple user.
BBH: Not a lot of people can say that.
DW: My business partner was a total PC user, but now he’s using Apple. I figure that it must be a bad time for the PC world when the guys who used to think Apple products were toys are now switching.
Thanks David for taking the time to buzz with us!