Scott Higgins sees unprecedented purchasing patterns
By Paul Knowles
If you feel that you encounter a project by HIP Developments anywhere you turn in the urban cores of Waterloo Region – you’re right. HIP President Scott Higgins says that a combination of factors, including Light Rail Transit, the changing baby boomer market, and the emergence of young, upwardly-mobile urban professionals – have produced “a perfect storm for new residential developments.”

Higgins has seen the future – and is building it. HIP projects include the Post Office site at King and Bridgeport, in Waterloo; the 90 King Street North site that includes the iconic Harmony Lunch; the Brick Brewery site (officially, “Circa 1877”); “Trio on Belmont” in Kitchener; and the impressive Gaslight project on the Southworks property in the heart of Galt. And, as they say, many more.

Higgins predicts so much activity in the KW cores that, “You will see the two cores merge together"

HIP Developments is a partnership with Waterloo Region builder Melloul-Blamey. Despite the apparent hipster connotation of the name, Higgins says it arises from “the founding principles of Melloul-Blamey: Honesty, Integrity, Pride of workmanship.”

Not every HIP project is in the urban core (they’re also active in Guelph), but most are – and Higgins believes that is where the action will continue to be.

Once upon a time, developers looked to the farmlands that bordered cities as potential new residential developments, but Higgins says that is the past. Today, “These infill sites are the new farms… and that’s a good policy.”

Higgins predicts so much activity in the KW cores that, “You will see the two cores merge together, at least in respect to King Street. I think it’s a ten-year-plus horizon” until infill redevelopment unites the two cities.

And about the HIP’s core Cambridge project, Higgins says, “With deep roots here, having been born and raised in Cambridge, I’ve always believed we have a truly unique Galt core that has tremendous potential to foster a work, live and play lifestyle. We see The Gaslight District as the catalyst of a revived innovation and creative spirit fostering economic and social activity in Cambridge for years to come.”

HIP projects – like other regional developers – tend to be on a large scale – in terms of finances, usually in the $30 to $60 million range. And they’re expansive in terms of area, too. For example, the Post Office site in Waterloo – now in the early, “conceptual stage” – will include 750,000 square feet, including 45,000 square feet of office space, and 300 rental units.

“We try to dream big,” says Higgins.
They also dream a bit outside the box. Higgins describes his company as “a community builder.” He wants to revitalize neighbourhoods, preserve heritage, all the while “creating something cool.”

“We see The Gaslight District
as the catalyst of
a revived innovation and creative spirit
fostering economic
and social activity
in Cambridge
for years to come.”

The projects often have surprising elements that manage to combine heritage and “cool”. One example is the Waterloo development that included the Harmony Lunch – a business that would certainly have been eliminated in a more traditional development.

But that is not the only example. Circa 1887, located in the former Brick Brewery, will have a 56,000 square foot brew pub and restaurant on site.

The Cambridge “Gaslights” development includes “Grand Innovation” – a centre for applied research, development and innovation in the tech industry located in the Gaslights development in Cambridge. And Higgins has announced that Grand Innovation will have a “Waterloo Hub at Circa 1877.”

HIP’s developments are innovative and bold, but experience has shown they are not necessarily “high risk”. That’s because Higgins has identified his market very precisely, and the proof is in the purchasing.

The Gaslight condo project in Cambridge was immensely popular: “we were virtually sold out in three days.” And then, later in 2017, Circa 1877 went on the all 188 condo units were sold in less than two days – according to Higgins, that’s “faster than any other condo development in Waterloo Region history.”

Higgins likes to point to the forward-thinking innovations included in HIP projects, like state of the art digital connections, and unique parking plans (at Circa 1877, residents who don’t want a parking space get a discount; at the Post Office, parking spaces allocated to commercial clients will flip on evenings and weekends to add to the public parking available in Uptown Waterloo).

Higgins and his colleagues are tuned in on new opportunities, but also aware of potential pitfalls. For example, although they have built student housing in Guelph, they are unlikely to do so in Waterloo Region.

Higgins told Exchange, “The student housing market [in Waterloo] has been very overbuilt. It will fall on its face. We’ve built too much.”

What they will be building involves a mix of rental and condo developments. The rentals, he stresses, will come with “condo style amenities”. The market for these units, he says, is largely two-fold: down-sizing baby boomers who want less space but lots of amenities; and young urbanites looking for something small, but chic.

With record-breaking sales, Higgins seems to have proven the adage, “Build it and they will come.” So the plan is, to keep building innovative projects. “In my view, it is a very open future …. We’re being bullish.”

Higgins told Exchange, “Great tech jurisdictions not only have the ingredients like great schools and a tech ecosystem of VC, incubation, accelerations, etc. but perhaps even more so they must be fun places to live and work. We need more great public spaces to play in. We also then need awesome urban buildings to live in. If we don’t build awesome and innovative places to live young people won’t want to call Waterloo Region home.”

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ISSN 0824-45
Copyright, 2017.