When you’re in the market to buy a house, there is more to consider than a nice pile of bricks. You have to factor in the surrounding neighbourhood and accessibility to all your major amenities. Alternatively, no one wants to sacrifice a well-built home because the neighbours are nice and the grocery store is within walking distance. Ideally, you can have both—a nice home settled in a nice community. Beaverbrook Developments aims for that ideal.
Beaverbrook Developments is a land development company that deals primarily with residential development. Located in Edmonton, Alberta, Beaverbrook is owned by George Cantalini, President, who bought the company in 1995. Before that, it was a subsidiary of Tridel Group of Companies— one of Canada’s real estate giants.
Finding an opportunity
When Cantalini—a former Tridel employee— purchased Beaverbrook, the company was doing poorly, a lot of which had to do with the local economy at the time. For those who don’t remember, Edmonton went through a severe recession in the early 1990s. To put things in perspective, Edmonton’s annual report for 1991 predicted a gradual rise in the price of crude oil to $23 over the next five years, but instead it fell to $18 in 1992 and $13.75 in 1993, before starting to rise once again. Population growth in the city virtually stopped and economic activity (as measured by building permits) plummeted, reducing the demand for development. It was during this time, as well, that Edmonton began to dismantle its extensive array of city-owned utilities.
“Things were significantly depressed in the Edmonton region,” says Cantalini. “We depend on the oil and gas industry, as well as the vitality of the government (because Edmonton is Alberta’s capital). At that time, there were cuts in both of those departments.”
“Tridel was looking at getting out. I figured Beaverbrook was close to being at the bottom of the market, so I thought it was a good time to step in and buy the company. I figured it couldn’t get much worse,” he laughs. “There was room for improvement and I needed a job.”
Building up to success
Cantalini started from scratch, building the business with land development projects in the Edmonton area. “Back then, we were completing roughly 40 to 50 lots per year, if that,” Cantalini says. Slowly, but surely, the company began doing more and more projects. Today, Beaverbrook completes between 500 and 800 lots per year. It even expanded with a project in Fort McMurray.
The company has been so successful that Cantalini decided to start a housing division to build homes on their lots. “The division is called Dolce Vita Homes,” he says. “On the housing side, we are going to be close to 150 to 200 homes per year.” Beaverbrook can officially say it offers the whole package—neighbourhoods and homes.
If you talk to Cantalini about his priorities for the company, you might find his ideas about quality standards take after The Golden Rule. “My number- one priority is to build neighbourhoods that my team and I would want to live in and be proud of,” he states. And Cantalini lives up to his word. “We see the quality of our work first hand. I live in one of my own subdivisions, as do most of our employees. On the development side, we aspire to build communities that people want to inhabit. On the housing side, we want to provide to people with good-quality homes at the most reasonable pricing.”
Being proud of where you live in today’s age usually involves some environmental sustainability. Beaverbrook is certainly working to implement green building materials into their homes. In fact, they are planning a new green subdivision in Spruce Grove. “We’re building a 340-acre subdivision, called Spruce Village, and we are planning to make it green,” says Cantalini. “It will probably be one of the first in the area. We want to see what we can incorporate to make it as environmentally friendly as possible, without adding significant costs. It’s a balance.”
Beaverbrook has gone from a company that was near the bottom of the totem pole, to a thriving land development and homebuilding business. One wonders just how Cantalini was able to turn the company around.
“I attribute Beaverbrook’s success to my ability to find projects that other major developers don’t look at,” he explains. “Other companies see surface problems and decide not to pursue the project. But the way I look at it is I can buy a piece of land that has issues and then resolve those issues. After that, I can get in under the radar and add significant value to the land. I think that has been the biggest success—being able to adjust and move to the market.”
As a relatively small operation, Beaverbrook finds itself able to turn with the market, no matter how fast it’s going. “It’s one of the benefits with running a small, tight ship,” Cantalini says. “Whenever we need to make a change, we can do it quickly. There isn’t a bunch of people waiting to approve the decision.”
Perhaps another component of Beaverbrook’s success is the upswing in the city’s economy over the last decade—at least, up until now. “The market in Edmonton has really improved from when I took over the company,” says Cantalini. “Demand had increased substantially. Before this recession, we were having a difficult time finding a good supply of land that was ready to develop, as well as getting approvals in a timely fashion so the project could begin. It was getting more difficult as demand increased and we had to work at keeping ahead of the curve. It hasn’t been that way in the last year or so, but we’re anticipating the next upturn.”
Beaverbrook Developments understands it owes a lot of its achievements to the Edmonton community and those who reside in the neighbourhoods the company develops. That’s why the Beaverbrook team gives back to their city and gets involved in various events and charities on a yearly basis.
“We get behind several organizations in the area as a way to show we care,” Cantalini says. “We support various cancer research organizations, The Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute and the Make-AWish Foundation, to name a few. One of our staff members is on the City’s Affordable Housing Committee.”
On top of charitable organizations, Beaverbrook also believes in getting involved in industry associations— such as the Edmonton Region Home Builders’ Association—to sharpen their skills. Cantalini is a member and former executive director of the Urban Development Institute (UDI ), which is a national nonprofit association of the development industry and its related professions. UDI ’s membership represents thousands of individuals involved in all facets of land development and planning. One of their mandates is to foster effective communication between the industry, government and the public, in order to create sustainable, vibrant communities for Albertans.
Beaverbrook Developments plans to continue building better neighbourhoods where homeowners can be satisfied with both their house and their surroundings, including tree-lined boulevards, park spaces, walking trails and dry ponds. As a company whose employees also live and raise their families in the communities that Beaverbrook has built, you can be sure they aren’t paying lipservice.
“We’re excited to grow the company,” says Cantalini. “Of course, we want to grow at a sustainable pace, so as not to cause too much stress to our employees or the natural resources in the area. The plan is to continue to add to the greening of our subdivisions and homes. We’re also looking at becoming a one-stop-shop, providing a lot and a home.”