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Cost of the Olympic Games, 1960-2021

There are many reasons why one might want to host the Olympics. Brand building is certainly one. Making some kind of profit is another. But the direct economic benefits aren’t always clear. Embedded above are two recent charts from the WSJ outlining 1) the cost of the Olympic Games over the years (the exact numbers are likely debatable) and 2) some of the overruns that host cities have seen. Montreal stands out as a dubious outlier with cost overruns exceeding 700%. And Tokyo stands out as being the most expensive games ever. As I understand it, the economics are challenging in the best of times. So one can only imagine what kind of dent the Tokyo Olympics might leave behind.

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The numerical impacts of inclusionary zoning

Our cost consultant, Finnegan Marshall, gave our team a presentation today on what’s happening with construction costs in Toronto and across Canada. I’ve said this before, but hard costs are no joke right now.

One of the areas that they focused on was the impact that inclusionary zoning is likely to have on development economics here in Toronto. To illustrate the point, a sample high-rise condominium pro forma was used. Think something in the 30-35 storey range.

Assuming a requirement of 10% affordable (the policy details are still TBD), there is going to be a real cost to development pro formas that will need to be somehow paid for.

One school of thought is that land prices will simply adjust downward. In this case, the landowner would be the one paying. I don’t think this will be the case (land prices tend to be sticky), but if they were to adjust downward, it would need to drop by $44 per square foot buildable to maintain the project’s margins in this example. (That’s $13.2 million on a 300,000 sf project.)

If, on the other hand, the price of the remaining market rate condominium suites were to increase to offset the cost of the affordable component, they would need to increase by $91 per square foot. This translates, in the above example, into a sticker price increase of approximately $60,000 per suite.

These numbers are, of course, not exact. That is not the point of this post. Every project is different. But hopefully it gives you an idea of some of the levers that will invariably need to be pulled when inclusionary zoning comes into force.

My sense is that this latter scenario is more likely to happen. I have yet to see land prices adjust downward in the face of rising costs. So all of this is likely to be bad for broad-based affordability, but good if you want to be bullish on market rate home prices.

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DDG Partners + GS Invest = Azur

Last week I wrote about a project in New York by DDG Partners called 100 Franklin. If you missed it, go here.

I didn’t, however, say much about the developer. Though at the time I was wondering why their website was no longer up.

DDG Partners is a firm that I have written about several times over the years. They are a firm that I have always admired because of 1) their commitment to design and 2) their vertically-integrated approach to development. They do things like design, construction, and asset management all in-house.

So I was interested to learn that back in May they announced a merger with French real estate firm, GS Invest. Prior to the union, GS had a portfolio of more than 3 million square feet across Europe. The new investment and development company is called Azur.

Also interesting is the fact that Azur has started making proptech investments. Their first investment is in a company called Whiterock AI.

For more about Azur, click here.

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A new agricultural frontier in Canada and Russia

Last year over the holidays, I attended a virtual wine tasting event that was put on by one of our partners. It was with a vineyard / winemaker in Spain and so it was evening for us and some ungodly hour for him.

At the end of the tasting — which was exceptional, by the way — I asked him what he thought about the Niagara region. Some of you may know that I love to support local Ontario wines. His response was hilarious and something along the lines of: “When we think of Niagara wines, we think of a part of the world that shouldn’t produce wine but somehow does.”

Ouch.

This was maybe the case before. But I think the region, vines, and industry have all matured. We also have some exceptional winemakers, some of which have come from the Old World because our startup-y wine region affords them far more creative freedom.

But you might also argue that things are changing because our climate is changing. The Financial Times recently published an interesting “big read” about how agricultural production and crop types are shifting around the world in the face of climate temperatures.

It turns out that wine grapes are a pretty good leading indicator. A canary in the coal mine if you will. Because climate matters a great deal if you’re trying to make exceptional wines. And if you’ve been harvesting a particular thing at a certain time for the last 5 decades and you’re now doing it several weeks earlier, it might be a sign that something is changing.

It also turns out that two countries, in particular, stand to disproportionately benefit from this shifting agricultural landscape: Canada and Russia. As temperatures change, a new agricultural frontier is going to be created. And it is expected that more than 50% of this land will be in these two countries. See image at the top of this post.

Of course, there’s a flipside to this change. Countries on the other end of the spectrum with marginal growing climates and/or low production yields, could be severely impacted by higher temperatures. So perhaps it is a good idea to stay on top of what’s happening in the world of wine. Might I recommend something from Niagara?

Image: FT

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Construction is messy

The typical way to build buildings is through a design-bid-build approach. The way this works is that you first design stuff and create drawings. You then ask people to price the stuff that you have drawn. And then you proceed to build what is on the drawings and what has been priced.

There are a number of possible risks with this approach. For one, the design/drawing phase is sometimes/often done in isolation without a lot of feedback from the contractor and/or subcontractors. So you might be designing and drawing things that aren’t all that feasible or constructible. Pre-construction involvement helps address this.

Another risk is that you’re buying what is on the drawings. So if the drawings suck or aren’t properly coordinated, then you are likely opening yourself up to a barrage of change orders and lots of additional costs.

In theory, it all sounds fine. Here are my drawings and specifications. Give me a price. And then let’s build. But as many or most of you will know, it’s generally never that simple or easy. Though it will, of course, depend on the type and complexity of the project.

Another consideration is the kind of contract you enter with your constructor. Is it a cost-plus contract, where the constructor simply charges a percentage on top of whatever the costs end up being, or is it some kind of lump sum or guaranteed maximum price (GMP) contract?

While I was in architecture school I decided to take a class on construction delivery methods. The instructor was, in my mind, your quintessential construction person. He was built like a brick shithouse and he never minced words. He also had a voice that sounded like a subwoofer.

I wouldn’t say I’m an expert, but I do remember him hammering home two points. One, GMP actually stands for guaranteed minimum price. This is forever imprinted in my mind. You’re never going to pay less and you’re almost certainly not going to pay the “maximum” number. You will end up getting change ordered and paying more.

Two, lump sum and at-risk contracts create a very different relationship between owner/developer and constructor. In his words, it is adversarial.

Because if I’m a constructor and I’ve promised a specific number, I’m likely going to do a few things. I am going to inflate the numbers to make sure my profit margin is protected throughout the project. And if my profit margin gets squeezed, which it likely will, I’m going to look for other ways to make money.

Personally, I side towards cost-plus and construction management arrangements. I don’t want an adversarial relationship. I want a partnership where there’s as much alignment as possible around a common set of project goals. Let’s ride or die together.

Similarly, when it comes to the actual procurement and delivery methods, I find that we are often using more integrated approaches as opposed to cut and dry design-bid-build approaches. You want the competitive pricing that comes with bidding, but you also want collaboration. It’s about striking that right balance.

The construction process is a messy one. These are just some of my thoughts this morning. If any of you have any insights, I would, of course, welcome them in the comment section below.

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Project Profile: 100 Franklin by DDG Partners and Palette Architecture

100 Franklin is my kind of project. Developed by DDG Partners, 100 Franklin is a small boutique condominium project that was completed last year in New York’s Tribeca. From what I can tell, there are only 10 residences in the project, ranging from 1,427 to 3,673 square feet.

A number of things are interesting about this project, particularly when you compare it to how and what we typically build in Toronto.

One, it’s kind of an awkward site. It is made up of two triangular lots that one could have easily dismissed as being not all that developable. (Granted space is a precious commodity in Manhattan.) But DDG made it work (they have an in-house design team). They also managed to stitch the two buildings together so that they read as one big awesome street wall.

Two, it’s only about 30,000 square feet. I mention this because, you don’t see a lot of development at this scale here in Toronto. With entitlements taking as long as they do (among other reasons), it can be a real challenge. So if you’re not capital constrained, you may as well take advantage of the economies of scale associated with going bigger.

Three, I think it speaks to differing cultural attitudes around housing. By Toronto standards, these are very large suites. The average size of a new condominium in downtown Toronto is probably somewhere in the low 600s (square feet). I think that tells you a lot about who is buying and how they think about living in a multi-family building.

Four, it’s downright just a beautiful building with some really terrific brickwork. For photos, check out here and here.

Image: Robert Granoff via DDG Partners

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New 3D-printed bridge erected in Amsterdam

This 12-meter 3D-printed stainless steel bridge was recently erected in Amsterdam. As is par for the course, some people hate it and some people love it. I’m in the latter camp.

Designed by Joris Laarman Lab in collaboration with MX3D and Arup (engineering), the bridge was printed off-site over a 6 month period and then craned into place.

3D printing stuff isn’t new; but it is interesting to see the technology being used for this real world application. Supposedly it’s the first 3D-printed stainless steel bridge. There are claims out there for other materials.

What is also interesting is that the entire bridge has been outfitted with sensors so that things like pedestrian usage, corrosion, and load changes can be measured going forward.

Construction is generally a messy process. And it’s kind of amazing how little it has changed over the years. I don’t think that there’s any question that this represents the future of building.

Images: Thea van den Heuvel via Dezeen

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“As-is” residential real estate marketplace raises $80 million

Sundae, which is a residential real estate marketplace that connects distressed sellers and/or dated properties with potential investors, has just raised $80 million in Series C funding. Since its founding in 2018, the company has raised a total of $135 million.

The marketplace is largely targeted at investors looking to buy, renovate, and then flip off-market homes. The company has also said that it is looking to protect distressed and/or uninformed sellers from opportunistic buyers.

The way it works is that Sundae lists the home and then aggregates demand from qualified local investors. These investors then bid against each other, in an auction, to buy the home. Presumably this is a good thing for homeowners.

Once a bid has been accepted, Sundae will then advance $10k to the seller to help with moving and other expenses. Supposedly the company delivers, on average, about 10 offers within the first few days of a listing.

Sundae appears to have a narrower focus compared to other real estate startups like Opendoor. This is a marketplace for “as-is” homes and a solution to “predatory wholesalers” who buy off-market and then quickly assign the paper.

But perhaps this is just the start of more change in the real estate industry.

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The Tokyo Toilet

One of the biggest challenges with living through this pandemic has been finding a good public toilet. Drinking in the park is all fine and dandy, but at some point you’re going to need to find a place to pee. From experience, I can tell you that this can be a challenge in places like Toronto and Vancouver. But from the looks of it, the situation is a bit different in Tokyo. Japan, apparently, views its toilets as a symbol of its world-renowned hospitality culture. And so it takes great pride in the design of its public toilets. Last year, Tokyo invited 16 creators from around the world to redesign 17 of its public toilets throughout Shibuya. The list of creators includes big names like Tadao Ando, Kengo Kuma, Shigeru Ban, Toyo Ito, and many others. And the result is probably the nicest collection of public toilets that you have ever seen (somewhere around 9 of them are already operational with the balance expected to open sometime this year). The uniforms worn by the maintenance staff were even designed by Nigo (creator of the fashion brand A Bathine Ape). That’s attention to detail.

For more about The Tokyo Toilet project and to check out the completed toilets, click here.

Image: The Tokyo Toilet

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Pine Hill Homes launches call for artists to design new laneway house facade

My realtor friend Mark Savel tagged me in this earlier today.

Pine Hill Homes has recently completed a laneway suite here in Toronto and they have now put out a call for artists to come up with something creative for its front facade. I think this is a great / fun idea and so I’m sharing it today on the blog.

I think it also speaks to one of the differences between laneway suites and the main houses that now host them. Could you imagine a builder doing a call to artists for the front facade of a house not on a laneway? It seems less likely to me. But I think that the laneway side is viewed as a little less precious, and that creates an opportunity for playfulness.

This, in my mind, is a great thing.

If you decide to participate and your work is selected, you’ll have all of your materials paid for and you’ll also get an honorarium. I don’t know how much the honorarium is, or where this house is actually located, but I’m sure you can find these things out by contacting Pine Hill.

I’m looking forward to seeing what ultimately gets selected and put up.