|“Something greater than the sum of its parts”|
|It is pretty easy to understand why Frank Voisin is part of the 2018 Baker’s Dozen. A third-generation developer, Frank Voisin is a grandson of Frank Voisin, the builder of Kitchener suburbs which 50 years later have turned into the growing core. The younger Frank is a son of Greg Voisin, developer of the two largest outdoor malls in Waterloo region, and past investor and Vice President of M&M Meats, which was co-founded by Frank’s Uncle, Mac Voisin.
In short, the Voisins are a family of developers and entrepreneurs, a fact not lost on Frank the younger, who has taken Kitchener by the horns and quickly made his ambitions known.
“So when you first walk in, the first minute you’re in this building, you’re going to see stuff being made, you’re going to see access to capital, you’re going to see alcohol and food, just a very lively experience - and then there are all the tenants that are building the Internet of Things.”
Frank Voisin not only has the wealth and fortitude it takes to realize the huge cost involved with changing the landscape, but also the passion and intellect to position them as significantly marketable landmarks, just as previous generations of Voisins have done.
“It’s pretty wonderful to be third generation developer,” says Voisin. “My grandfather, Frank Senior, built a lot of the residential neighbourhoods that at one time were the suburbs, and now they’re very close to the core. My father has developed two of the Region’s retail developments, in the suburbs.”
Voisin’s projects just keep getting bigger, since partnering with his brother Steve, as the two bought, renovated and added on to 8 Queen St., once part of the Goudies building, and now rented to VidYard.
He has a project on the works in Guelph called The MetalWorks, working alongside Fusion Homes. His own RFP submitted to the City of Kitchener was recently accepted for the purchase and redevelopment of the Old Legion Building in Kitchener; he says he has “great plans for that.”
But his flagship project – and the reason for making the Baker’s Dozen of influencers – is his vision for Catalyst 137, a 24-acre commercial property, located in a vicinity of Kitchener that is close enough to Waterloo to be called Midtown.
This is a project with huge potential, orchestrated with partner/tenant Miovision’s Curtis McBride and with financial help from Osmington, a commercial real estate company owned by David Thomson, Chair of Woodbridge. The facility is guaranteed to blow your mind. “When I moved back from abroad and I saw what was going on in downtown Kitchener, I thought, this is very European, you can see the trajectory we are on, and this is, in my mind, just the most exciting area to be doing developing in.”
Voisin, who worries that he could go the rest of his life “without seeing an inflection point in the way people think about cities and the way cities think about themselves,” wanted to contribute to its development, “so that led to 8 Queen, which led to this, which led to the Legion and a couple other projects, that are at the early stages.”
Voisin, who worries that he could go the rest of his life “without seeing an inflection point in the way people think about cities and the way cities think about themselves”
Voisin has vision, and it’s soon apparent that his vision is as unique as it is trend-setting. Think IoT, and all that is involved, and consider the advantages of calling Catalyst 137 your home. It’s located 700 metres from Google and the Tannery, and just 77 metres from the LRT, “but unlike everything else that is close to that, we’ve got free parking, almost 11 spots for free on site per unit,” he says. Parking, no matter how the cities underplay it, is still a problem, and with the LRT taking away more spaces, parking is at a premium. Voisin continues, “If you’re in the core, you’re paying anywhere from $130 to $150 a month per employee; that adds up substantially, that adds anywhere from $7 to $9 a square foot to your occupancy cost, if you’re in the core. And look at the average number of employees per square foot in the tech industry.”
“The other advantage is, we have industrial zoning, reflecting the fact that our tenants are physically making things. They’re manufacturers, and so that industrial zoning gives an industrial tax rate as oppressed to retail or office zoning. All in, we think our cost, the total cost of occupation, is probably 30-50% less than what you would find for an equivalent space in the core.”
He adds, let’s not forget the ambiance and services. “When you walk in the very first thing you see is going to be a coffee shop run by the guys from Berlin Restaurant, then you come up through these two doors and then the first thing you see is the public area, a public space where we will host events.”
137 Glasgow was a site that stored tires and was generally viewed as a a black hole. There was absolutely no reason to go there. But now, when you first walk in, you’re going to be treated to sixteen large screens, that will form one large screen if needed. “This will be a place to host events, to do presentations. The tenants at this location will be able to host gatherings in the foyer, there will actually be a circuit board printer on hand, you will see a lot of activity right there,” states Voisin. At the opposite end will be a brew pub, one that will have the capacity to brew 30,000 pints every 21 days. There will be a 11,000 square foot restaurant attached to the brew pub. The restaurant will also be run by “the guys at the Berlin Restaurant,” rated one of the top three restaurants in Canada last year by Air Canada’s magazine.
“To have them onsite,” says Voisin, “is a huge win. So when you first walk in, the first minute you’re in this building, you’re going to see stuff being made, you’re going to see access to capital, you’re going to see alcohol and food, just a very lively experience – and then there are all the tenants that are building the Internet of Things.”
Voisin hopes that he’s done his job right and the tenant mix is going to be one that creates “something even greater than the sum of the parts.” Can’t wait to see it.
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