Back to school
It was the height of the boom when the British announced they were coming — notably, an award-winning real estate investment, sales and marketing firm headquartered in London, England.
Pure International picked Calgary as the spot to open its first North American operation.
“As the gateway to the Rockies, Calgary provides ideal access for our project acquisition in the region,” said Sean Collins, managing director of Pure International, at the time. “When combined with the wealth
genera- tion in Alberta through oil and real estate, we feel that there are also significant opportunities to sell our global product to the domestic market and the transient international workforce in the region.”
That was 2007. Today is a different story.
“It has been ‘trying times’ for many,” says Tom Mathers, who heads up the North American branch for Pure International. “Worldwide, we have all seen proj- ects collapse or near collapse and unfortunately, Canadian projects have not been immune by any stretch.” Even so, the company is entrenched in the Canadian market.
“Thankfully, our diligence in selecting projects that would fit with our markets and that have demonstrated solidity in financing has helped us,” says Mathers.
Buyers today “are certainly more cautious,” he says, although he is “seeing a resurgence of interest from an international perspective.”
One project in particular — the first for the company when they set up shop in Calgary — has defied the market.
Located in the heart of the Rockies, 901 Fernie is a 44-unit resort condo with a twist.
It integrates old and new in a unique way.
The condo is partly an upscale, unique New York loft-style design — with features such as penthouse units with 360-degree views — and partly historic.
An original schoolhouse in Fernie that was built in the early 1900s has been restored and converted to 23 units.
Heritage brick is prevalent and first and second floors feature 13foot ceilings. Heritage-style windows fill rooms with natural light and bathrooms have features such as deep, cast-iron tubs.
“901 maintains the integrity of the historic architecture,” says Mathers. “The project mandated the reuse of materials, including old timber, the brick — things that can never be duplicated — and then it was built with workmanship that brings it to another level.”
The final phase of the development is the schoolhouse, which is nearing completion.
While the historic flavour has been carefully preserved and duplicated by developer Simon Howse of LeBlond Partnership, the units also have all the modern conveniences and features that today’s modern buyer wants and appreciates, blended in with care.
Showers in bathrooms, for example, have thick, frameless glass doors, Grohe adjustable shower systems, granite vanities and radiant in-floor heating.
Kitchens are custom fitted with solid maple cabinets with selfclosing hardware, natural granite countertops and GE Profile appliances.
All schoolhouse residences come with the appliances, a residence furniture package and custom window treatments.
The adjoining penthouse residences, meanwhile, have floor-to- ceiling window walls and large outdoor living areas featuring radiant in-slab heating.
The complex has a spa, fitness area, sauna, hot tub and underground, secured parking with storage. “This now-finished project has exceeded its mission to be the most unique development in Western Canada,” says Mathers.
“It’s definitely an architect’s dream in creating something that will likely never be replicated. We use this project as a benchmark for quality design when looking at projects.”
So far, the buyers consist of both full-time residents and those who buy for investment — but the investors have been a surprise, says Mathers.
“From an international perspective, buyers are looking for deals — although in the case of 901, it is more leaning toward having something that is unquestionably unique, over price,” he says.
“As a matter of fact, where international buyers typically look to have properties managed to generate income to offset running costs, a number of international buyers in 901 have opted out of any rental program as they do not want anyone to use their property.”
Additionally, prices have remained fairly stable, although some units have had price adjustments downward to meet current market conditions, says Mathers.
Of the remaining units (just over a dozen left), sizes range from 1,290 square feet for a two-bedroom unit with a study — priced at $699,000 — to a 1,956-square-foot bi-level with three bedrooms and a study priced at $899,000.
As for the location, it can’t be beat, says Mathers. “The culture of the British mindset is investment properties and the demographic is young, wealthy and in love with the Rocky Mountains, absolutely.”
They see Canada as “a safe place to park their money. It’s a beautiful environment with lots of space and a diversity of climate, geography and culture.”
Canada is also attractive because of the good access from the U.K. to Calgary, as well as the abundance of snow for skiing.
“With North America forming a significant portion of our business, we have always kept an eye on projects within the Fernie area,” says Mathers.
When the company first became involved with 901 Fernie two years ago, Pure International’s Collins said the project “is a refreshing new lifestyle option for people interested in buying in British Columbia and I strongly believe Fernie now joins Mont Tremblant (Que.) in its four-season appeal to the U.K. market.”
As for Pure’s other interests, Mathers now says “we are recently seeing interest out of our Dubai offices where — much like we saw a few years ago in Russia/Moscow — developers and investors there are looking to diversify and be less reliant on domestic consumption of real estate and holdings, particularly with the current oversupply and constricted demand.
“They are looking to Canada as a venue to explore as potential ‘plays.’ I think we will see more of this in coming times.”
Meanwhile, the company has “extended our services” to diversify over the current slowdown, including helping developers extend their reach into broader international markets,” says Mathers.
“We have also begun to explore and position exclusive properties — ready for the taking,” he says. “Essentially, we are interested in unique/exclusive/executive resales. Locally, we have taken on Spring Creek Mountain Village in Canmore and are exploring additional projects in Mont Tremblant, as well as looking at two other projects (in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico and Costa Rica) with some associates.”
For information on Pure International, visit www. pureintl.com.
For more about 901 Fernie, visit www.901fernie.com.
A former historic school is part of the 901 Fernie project in Fernie, B.C. The project includes penthouses and loft-style apartments.
The kitchen of one of the units inside the historic schoolhouse.