Ni­cor re­stores the city’s his­tory

Fam­ily works to­gether to earn award

Regina Leader-Post - - Business - WILL CHABUN

Chuck­ling, Ross Keith con­cedes he once had a lit­tle too much “bravado”.

As a young lawyer, he’d of­fer clients legal ad­vice — then a lit­tle busi­ness ad­vice too.

Even­tu­ally, he went into busi­ness him­self — with a firm that was re­cently named Fam­ily En­ter­prise of the Year by the Regina branch of the Canadian As­so­ci­a­tion of Fam­ily En­ter­prise.

Keith ad­mits he’d given lit­tle thought to CAFE un­til fam­ily mem­bers and spouses be­gan work­ing in the firm, the Ni­cor Group of Com­pa­nies. Now, there’s a CAFE sticker on the front door and the CAFE tro­phy is one of the first things you see in its head of­fice.

That of­fice is in a re­stored house — wherein the essence of Ni­cor: find­ing prop­er­ties, re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing them and fi­nally mak­ing money through leas­ing or sales.

The young Keith was prac­tis­ing com­mer­cial law with the firm of MacLean Keith — the “Keith” in its name be­ing his fa­ther — whose part­ners re­ha­bil­i­tated the for­mer Pat­ton res­i­dence at Scarth Street and Col­lege Av­enue for their of­fice — a project that won a Her­itage Canada award for adap­tive re-use in 1980.

It was named Ni­col Court in hon­our of Alis­tair Ni­col, a Regina lawyer who died too young. The ab­bre­vi­a­tion “Ni­cor” was given to the firm set up to do this work — and then more projects. Around 1989, Keith swapped his part­ner­ship in the law firm for own­er­ship of Ni­cor and, with his wife, took it over.

It was in the 1970s and ’80s that Regi­nans re­dis­cov­ered the old build­ings in their midst. There was a high­pro­file public cam­paign to save Gov­ern­ment House on Dewd­ney Av­enue and an ac­tivist city plan­ner named Ron Clark.

But there was the de­mo­li­tion of houses south of down­town and their re­place­ment with what Keith calls “Stali­nesque” apart­ment build­ings and of­fice blocks. A pe­ti­tion to save the house on the north­west cor­ner of Col­lege and Lorne Street at­tracted 7,500 names.

Keith says some de­vel­op­ers in those days felt “progress was mea­sured in terms of the amount of con­crete poured per-capita.” But the her­itage ac­tivists found sym­pa­thy on city coun­cil. Leg­is­la­tion pro­tect­ing her­itage prop­er­ties and cre­at­ing tax breaks was passed.

Ni­cor’s projects have in­cluded the Bal­four Apart­ments and sev­eral build­ings along the Fred­er­ick W. Hill Mall on Scarth Street. He said the lat­ter project be­gan as a re­volt against the prospect of Plus-15 ped­ways along the mall and ended up with those own­ers swap­ping space at the front of their prop­er­ties for an in­door walk­way at ground level. The build­ings’ up­per lev­els were re­built as con­dos or apart­ments.

Among many other projects, Ni­cor re­de­vel­oped Hamil­ton Street’s Leader Build­ing into con­dos and of­fices, and last year ac­quired the Sis­ters of the Pre­cious Blood Monastery on 25th Av­enue for re­de­vel­op­ment into apart­ments.

Keith — who notes that Ni­cor has a state­ment of val­ues that em­ploy­ees are ex­pected to “sta­ple to their fore­heads” — feels strongly that fam­ily en­ter­prises, with their abil­ity to look be­yond the next fi­nan­cial re­sults, have a vi­tal role in strength­en­ing civil so­ci­ety and its in­sti­tu­tions. “It’s not some­thing that’s all al­tru­is­tic — it’s in our in­ter­est to make sure that so­ci­ety runs right.”

DON HEALY/Leader-Post

From left: Court­ney Keith, Ross Keith and Dan Tor­rie at the Ni­cor Group of­fices. Ni­cor re­cently was named

Fam­ily En­ter­prise of the Year by the lo­cal chap­ter of the Canadian As­so­ci­a­tion of Fam­ily En­ter­prises.

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