Aquilini Development and Construction Inc.

For David Negrin, the chance to serve new customers keeps the construction and development industries fresh. “That’s really what’s kept me alive,” he says. “You have to look for new markets.” Negrin is the president of Aquilini Development and Construction Inc., a Vancouver-based firm that specializes in developing and building multiresidential communities and mixed-use projects in British Columbia and Western Canada. Founder Luigi Aquilini started the company in 1956.

Since then, the firm has built millions of square feet of properties. “In the last year and a half, we sold approximately 480 units,” Negrin says. “We’re averaging about 225 units a year.”

Taking the Opportunity

A longtime veteran of the construction and development industries, Negrin joined Aquilini Development in 2007. Previously, he spent 20 years as the senior vice president of Concord Pacific Group Inc., a developer  of master-planned communities.

“I’ve been involved in 12 million square feet of residential and commercial construction in the last 20 years,” he says. When Negrin left Concord in 2007, he planned to retire.

But when he was approached by Aquilini Development to take his current role, he changed his mind. “I met the family and I liked the way they run their business,” he recalls.

For instance, Negrin explains, the Aquilini family has given the firm the freedom to look at new markets and branch out. Three years ago, the company moved into affordable housing when Vancouver had an expensive market.

“Young families couldn’t afford to buy [expensive homes],” he says. “We made a change in our philosophy that it was time to move into affordable housing.”

Under his leadership, the company also started building smaller, more compact homes. “It has been very successful for us,” Negrin says, noting that the company strives to remain “very progressive.”

Under Construction

Aquilini Development is at work on several projects, Negrin says. One involves the construction of 144 single-family units in Vernon, British Columbia, while a second will see the construction of four mixed-used towers at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. 

Negrin adds that the company is nearing completion on its Richards Living project, which was its first affordable housing project. Set to open this September, the building will feature 233 residential units and two restored heritage homes. The project will be 18 stories with a low-rise component of eight stories.

According to the company, the architecture of Richards reflects the history, culture and attributes of downtown Vancouver. “Chic landmark residences with exceptional concrete, glass and metal construction offer clean lines and calm attitude, and a serene urban aesthetic that embraces a sleek west-coast style,” Aquilini says. “The architect’s richest gesture includes the lush, green rooftops on the townhomes, a visual feast of sustainability.”

He notes that the company sold out the majority of the spaces in Richards in 2009. “That was the first [affordable housing project] that came out after the [economic] crash,” Negrin recalls.

The company also is building The Maynards Block, which consists of a 13- and nine-story concrete, steel and glass towers that will cover 216,700 square feet and be connected to the historically restored Maynards brick building. Together, the towers will feature 254 residential units and 35,000 square feet of commercial space on its main floor.

Within the buildings’ design, “Clean lines and curves bend gently outward, complemented by the organic contrast of brick, metal and glass that come together to capture the expansive views of the mountains and city,” the company says. The project will be finished at the end of 2012. “Right now, we only have 25 units left,” Negrin says. “We’ll be providing a mixture of town homes and commercial concrete buildings.” 

The project will be located near downtown Vancouver, which residents can access by walking, using bikes, trolley bus transportation, the Canada Line or water taxi. “Maynards offers a legendary, world-class metropolitan experience right outside [the tenant’s] front door,” the company says.

Negrin explains that Aquilini’s suppliers and contractors have been invaluable on these projects. “[They] are extremely important suppliers,” he says, noting that the company has had to form relationships with all firms.

Working in the Bubble

Two current challenges for Aquilini Development, Negrin says, are the markets in the United States and Europe. 

“They’re suffering,” he admits, but notes that the city of Vancouver currently is enjoying economic prosperity. 

“If you look at the majority of development in the last 20 years, Vancouver is [in] a bubble,” he says, noting that many Asian buyers help keep the market very strong.

However, when that changes, developers will need to work harder at putting out products that are affordable to locals. “There’s thousands of families in British Columbia that are looking at homes that are affordable for them,” he says. “You [will have to] create a product that you sell cheaper, but is still a healthy profit to both parties.”

Branching Out

Aquilini Development is planning for growth in the future, but not just in the areas of construction and development, Negrin says. Instead, the company has its eyes set on launching a green energy business, as well as penetrating the food industry.

Recently, the company bought a fish farm in Chilliwack, British Columbia, where it will grow salmon. In addition, Aquilini Development has a business that grows coho and steelhead fish.

“All of that ties into the philosophy of our company, which is to expand in development,” he declares.

However, the company will continue building affordable developments. “You have to expand to the masses, and it has to include everybody,” he says. “We have a pretty strong philosophy for that and how we’re going to move forward.”

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