Onni Group of Companies

Like for many developers, the economic recession wasn’t a piece of cake for the Onni Group, but it wasn’t a huge burden for the privately owned real estate operation, either. The company’s history of successful developments dates back more than 40 years, and this foundation helped it remain strong, even when the market was weak.

“This is a family owned and operated company – owned by the same family since the early 1960s, and it is a true rags-to-riches story,” explains John Middleton, senior leasing manager. “Four brothers came to Canada from Italy and started a landscaping business. They took that and collectively created one of the largest development operations in British Columbia and potentially Canada overall.”

As a full-service real estate company, Onni Group designs, develops, builds and manages a diverse portfolio of real estate – residential masterplanned communities, mixed-use developments, office buildings, shopping centers and industrial parks. The Onni Group has developed more than 6,000 residential units in the last 10 years with another 4,500 units currently in the pipeline. It also has approximately 3.5 million square feet of space in its commercial portfolio, as well as an additional 2 million square feet in various stages of development. With experienced leadership and an extensive amount of undeveloped land, the company used its time during the recession to prepare new projects and position itself to act when the market recovered.

“We have a lot of expertise and experience within our company, which helped us  navigate  through difficult market,” Middleton says. “We know how to adapt to the market environment and assess the barometer of home purchasers and commercial tenants.”

As a result, he notes, Onni Group is already moving forward in constructing multiple major projects, even when the market hasn’t completely recovered. “We saw a light at the end of the tunnel and went for it,” he adds.

Stylish Shopping

From land acquisition to site planning, design and construction, and marketing and sales, Onni Group manages every step of the development process in-house, giving it a greater control over quality. Quality is definitely a factor that one of Onni’s newest projects – Fremont Village – will demonstrate, Middleton stresses.

Located in Port Coquitlam, a suburb of Vancouver, Fremont Village is a 50-acre shopping center that will provide approximately 700,000 square feet of leasable space. It will be anchored by a 150,000-square-foot Walmart, opening in the early summer 2011, and a 73,000-square-foot Canadian Tire, opening in fall 2011. It also will include a 370,000 square-foot main-street-style thoroughfare for small- and medium-format retailers.

“This will be a unique and attractive center when completed in early 2013,” Middleton says. “It will be one of the largest outdoor retail centers in British Columbia, and have a significant lifestyle component that will be pedestrian-oriented, which is unique to the area. It will have multilevel retail spaces and over 100,000-square-feet dedicated to fashion.”

Fremont Village also will have more than 1,000 parking stalls,  many of which will be located underground. “Land in Metro Vancouver is at a premium,  designs must flexible and creative  to maximize efficiencies and land use,” he says.

Aggressive Acquisitions

Five minutes to the east of Fremont Village is Pitt Meadows, British Columbia, where the Onni Group is developing a 95-acre industrial park – the Golden Ears Business Center.

“We were the first developer to come out of the downturn and build industrial space on a speculative basis in British Columbia,” he explains. “As soon as we started seeing the market improve, we took that opportunity to kick off our new business park by building our first phase of the project, a 75,000-square-foot multi-tenanted building. Construction will start on the next 110,000-square-foot building in the early summer 2011.

“There is not a lot of land for large industrial tenants in the Metro Vancouver area, and new construction is limited,” he continues. “With what Golden Ears Business Center has to offer, we  anticipate a lot of opportunity in the build-to-suit area.”

In total, Onni owns and manages approximately 1.5 million square feet of industrial space in the lower mainland of British Columbia, but the company expects to double its industrial portfolio over the next two to three years. About 800,000 square feet of this new industrial space will be in Ensenada, Mexico, which marks Onni’s entrance into the Mexican market.

“We are aggressive with our acquisitions,” Middleton says. “We have two projects in Mexico right now, and we recently acquired 2,000 existing residential units in Phoenix. We’re also looking in Ontario for additional opportunities in addition to the 1,500 residential units we are currently building in the Greater Toronto Area.”

Innovative and Efficient

Onni Group is known predominately as a residential developer in Canada, with 15 residential projects under way right now, Middleton says. In British Columbia, he says, the company has a reputation as the province’s “premier developer” of masterplanned communities.

Victoria Hill in New Westminster, British Columbia, for example, is a 65-acre community with in a park-like setting. When the multiphase project is complete, it will offer 1,400 residential units in high-rise and low-rise condominium towers and villas, as well as 40 areas of green space and a range of shops and services.

“This was land that the Onni Group bought from the government,” Middleton explains. “A hospital had been on the site for 100 years, but we redeveloped it into a residential garden community. We incorporated many of the existing trees and vegetation to make it an natural and comfortable environment.”

A substantial amount of Onni’s recent residential units have been a part of mixed-use developments, which has become an expertise for the company, Middleton notes. In Suter Brook Village in Port Moody, British Columbia, Onni has 1,250 residential units in high- and low-rise condominiums and town homes, as well as 120,000 square feet of retail space, 40,000 square feet of office space with plans for a 140-room hotel.

“The unique feature of this project is virtually all the parking is underground. Usually considered a challenge for suburban commercial space, this has been a success at Suter Brook. ” Middleton says. “Suter Brook demonstrates Onni’s expertise – we find desirable locations and provide features that homeowners will appreciate. However, it’s not enough to be innovative – we also have to be efficient in our delivery.”

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