Buzz Talk with John Ritchie [INTERVIEW]

Welcome back Buzz Talk enthusiasts!

Our Buzz Talk holiday hiatus is over and we’re back (with a vengeance) and ready to bring you the best interviews with notable folks involved in all facets of the development industry.

Today we’re buzzing with John Ritchie, principal at Springbank Development Corp., the BC-based company behind projects like Bloom, Evergreen and Dogwood in Coquitlam.

John got his start in the industry at age 21 and since then he’s amassed a considerable amount of experience and wisdom. We buzz with him about Bloom, the very exciting Evergreen Line and where he sees the Vancouver market in 10 years.

Enjoy!

BuzzBuzzHome: When did it first occur to you that a career in the development industry was for you?

John Ritchie: I went to work for a real estate developer when I was 21. I was working towards my CMA designation so I was working in the accounting department. I just took an interest in the day-to-day operations of the business and when a development coordinator quit, I asked for his job. My request was granted and I have been forever grateful.

BBH: What was the first project you worked on? 

JR: Initially, I was responsible for customer contact after the sale took place. That is, I made sure that any changes were to the satisfaction of the customer, that the customer was ready to close and that if there were any deficiencies in the suites, they were taken care of. I did this for a project in New Westminster and 5 projects in Kitsilano. My first project as a development coordinator was a 56 unit mixed use building on Broadway in Vancouver. The first project where I was responsible for everything from buying the land through to sell out, was  a 78 unit townhouse project in Langley.

BBH: Tell us a bit about Springbank. How did you get your start there? 

JR: I bought a piece of land in Calgary and developed it into 120 single family lots for my former employer.  By this time I had been working at the same company for fifteen years and had become the director of finance, but I still kept my hands in the land buying/development process. Part of the deal involved a cost sharing agreement with our neighbours and in the course of dealing with them, I decided that I would buy a small townhouse site from them and start out in this business for myself.

I was never the best construction guy in the business so I partnered with a development manager who I had been working with for a couple of years and we formed Springbank Development Corp. The name came from the neighbourhood where we did our first project on Calgary’s west side.

BBH: One of the projects Springbank currently has on the go is Bloom in Coquitlam. What are some of your favourite attributes of this project? 

JR: We like to provide a different form of housing for our customers. There’s nothing wrong with apartment style condominiums (I’m sure I’ll build more of them one day) but we felt that for this site, in this location, we wanted something a bit different. What we ended up with what are effectively apartment sized homes that look and feel like townhomes. Everyone enters their home through their front door rather than going up an elevator to a corridor that opens into their apartment. The floor plans are open and bright, they have great kitchens (I can’t stand homes that don’t have enough cabinet space) and they are laid out very efficiently.

The property itself is on a very quiet cul-de-sac, but 100m away — across the park — is a neighbourhood shopping centre. One of the things that we started to do a couple of years ago was to put in community gardens on all of our properties. We’ve found that these are very popular and probably the best used amenity that I have ever put into a project. Every home at Bloom comes with a garden plot that the owner can use for whatever purpose they want.

BBH: What’s so appealing about Coquitlam? 

JR: It’s not Coquitlam so much as this particular neighbourhood. It starts in Burnaby down by Lougheed Mall and goes up the hill to where we are.  There are so many positive attributes:

Transportation. The Millennium line runs from Lougheed mall into downtown Vancouver. As it stands now, the bus service from this area will connect our buyers to this line with just a 3 minute bus ride. When the Evergreen line is completed in 2014, there will be “transfer free” service to downtown Vancouver.

Recreation. Burnaby Mountain is great for walks in the forest and mountain biking. Burquitlam park, immediately adjacent to Bloom, has a baseball diamond, tennis courts and a great childrens play area. The Vancouver Golf Club is right in the neighbourhood.  Como Lake is just a short drive away.

Education. Easy access to Simon Fraser University and Douglas College. It’s just a short walk to all of the schools.

Shopping. There’s Lougheed Mall, Northgate shopping centre, Burquitlam plaza and let’s not forget the new Safeway going in on the corner of Como Lake and Clarke.

BBH: How do you see the Evergreen Line affecting development in Metro Vancouver? 

JR: It is going to help Metro Vancouver deal with the increasing population without building more roads. I believe that real estate in these areas, meaning homes that are within 500 metres of a station, will be directly impacted by this amenity.

Beyond that, I believe that there will be a lot of good intentions but less actual usage of the line. Fortunately, the cities located on the line seem to have taken this into consideration when preparing their Official Community Plans and these areas are set to grow dramatically in the next few years.

BBH: Time to try your crystal ball out. Where do you see the Vancouver real estate market in 10 years?  

JR: Ten years is a long time and I guess it’s pretty safe to make this kind of prediction. Since I’m not planning on running for public office, I don’t have to worry about someone digging this up years from now pointing out how abominable my predictions were. So here goes:

1. Living in a house will be considered a luxury.

2. Homes near high speed transportation routes will be in much greater demand than those that are not.

3. We won’t accept the premise that a 10,000 square foot home can be built “green” – rather it will be conventional wisdom that living with less will be a lot better for the planet than anything that we can do to make buildings more efficient.

4. Prices will be higher than they are today.

5. I will read in the paper that housing is unaffordable.

6. Homes will continue to sell.

7. Vancouver will be ranked either first or second among the worlds most liveable cities and people who don’t already live here will continue to wish that they did.

BBH: What is the best and worst job you’ve ever had? 

JR: Well, I have never had a job that I didn’t consider a challenge and since I love challenges I’ve never had occasion to complain. I guess I’m pretty lucky. As for my best job, that would have to be the one that I have right now.

Thanks for taking the time to buzz with us John!