Reliance Holdings

Large national development corporations may have the financing and access to resources to be profitable wherever they launch satellite offices. However, these firms rarely match the regional know-how of a family owned company that has spent generations in a specific area. 

Reliance Holdings Ltd. serves this role in the Vancouver metropolitan area. Founded in the 1950s, the company remains in family hands with Jon Stovell serving as general manager. The developer strictly works within the Vancouver metropolitan area, and its business is split evenly between commercial and residential projects. In its residential portfolio, about 30 percent of the developments are live/work projects. 

Reliance Holdings manages and maintains its properties, and provides in-house leasing, architectural and tenant-improvement services. The company boasts many heritage awards for its restoration of historic buildings. Reliance Holdings notes that many of its tenants have been with the firm for more than 30 years. 

Local Expertise

Reliance Holdings’ commitment to the Vancouver region and its local expertise set the developer apart from the competition, President Jon Stovell says. Through its 50 years of operation in the area, Stovell says the company can more easily maneuver through the barriers-to-entry that corporations not local to Vancouver might struggle to overcome.

“I think we’re very much focused on local knowledge and working on our area of expertise and not straying from our area of expertise,” Stovell adds. “We’re focusing on niche opportunities and focusing on local municipal policy.”

This strategy works particularly well in the Gastown neighborhood of Vancouver. This area has experienced a renaissance over the last five years, according to Stovell, which has led to a number of new developments. 

A number of historic Gastown buildings are subject to strict regulations regarding retrofits. With its experience in working with the municipal government, Reliance Holdings not only has been able to work through the regulations, but it also has taken advantage of federal funding for the restoration of historic properties.

“We’ve had a very successful run with the Gastown area of the city,” Stovell says. “We benefitted from the policy work in the city, and with a national incentive for historic buildings, we took on those positions in that market.”

Put to Practice

Outside of Gastown, Reliance Holdings recently delivered a historic redevelopment in the Vancouver neighborhood of Coal Harbor. West Pender Place is a 70,000-square-foot mixed-use development that has 144 living units and 10 retail units.

The $150 million project was constructed by ITC Construction Group and designed by IBI Architects. Residents have access to a rooftop terrace, meeting area, lounge, pool and gym, and the development itself is within striking distance of restaurants, rowing clubs, shopping, parks, hotels and convention centers.

Aside from being the largest development Reliance Holdings has delivered in its history, Stovell says there were numerous approvals and rights transfers that had to be pushed through the Vancouver city government to get the project completed.

“It was very challenging to maintain the construction process throughout a very challenging economic period,” Stovell adds. “We kept very good reporting and stayed in constant communication with our banks. By keeping them informed, they did not lose confidence with the management team throughout the rest of the project.”

The project taught Reliance Holdings lessons about building projects of this magnitude more efficiently. Now that West Pender Place is fully occupied after three years of construction, Stovell says the company is using these lessons on its next largest project – Burrard Gateway.

Burrard Gateway will occupy 850,000 square feet and will be the largest development in British Columbia when completed. Built in partnership with Jim Pattison Developments Ltd., the development will feature about 600 residential units, 10,000 square feet of office space and a 50,000-square-foot flagship auto dealership for Toyota Canada.

Construction of the project will take about three years once ground is broken next summer. The development will cost $350 million to complete, according to Stovell.

Virility in Vancouver

The Vancouver real estate market has managed to avoid the pitfalls of the current economic climate that have curtailed business throughout most of the rest of North America, according to Stovell. While this can be good for business, it also means competition is fierce.

“We have a very strong real estate market that is getting increasingly competitive,” Stovell says. “There is a lot more risk involved, also.

“You have to do a lot more work and invest a lot more in the properties to get a real return,” Stovell adds. “You can’t just build a property and collect the rent the next day.”

With that in mind, the management team behind Reliance Holdings has taken steps to ensure its developments will be profitable over the long haul. This involves more in-depth planning and taking extra precautions to be able to react to new situations, including fluctuating interest rates from lenders.

“This management is focused on quality by always working toward the inner city and center of the region, if possible,” Stovell says.

“Today, developments require a lot more planning and phasing of projects. We’re also being cautious by managing debt differently in case there is a sudden spike in interest rates.”

Reliance Holdings’ key partners include Allan Window Technologies, Nemetz (S/A) & Associates, ITC Construction Group, Yoneda & Associates and Femo Construction Ltd.

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