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There’s a pandemic going on, but you might not know it by the smile on Nigel Furgus’s face as he tours what will soon be a finished 108-unit apartment building on University Crescent.
"This is one of my favourite spots," the president of Paragon Design Build said from an outdoor terrace on the sixth floor, admiring the view from his company’s largest project to date, which will cost an estimated $30 million.
The building broke ground last June, but construction really began to hit its stride as COVID-19 restrictions began. Somehow, despite that, 30UC is six weeks ahead of schedule, and Furgus doesn’t expect his company’s pace, or that of the sector, to slow down.
"Business for us has actually picked up since COVID-19, and we’re very fortunate," he said.
A few key factors have played into that expansion, mainly low interest rates — when the pandemic first arrived in Canada, the Bank of Canada lowered the interest rate to a historic 0.25 per cent — and increased long-term financing from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).
Those conditions are favourable for savvy developers or investors because they lock away risk for longer periods, said Andrew Girdner, the assistant vice-president of CMLS Financial, the lender for Paragon’s University Crescent project. He said Winnipeg’s market has been relatively resilient, and that there was a need for projects like it, which adds to the appeal.
"If you look around Winnipeg, you’ll probably see a lot of cranes in the sky, so I do think there’s lots of activity in the sector, and a lot of it is being driven by the current environment in (the city)," he said.
Paragon’s University Crescent building is also a beneficiary of CMHC’s affordable flex program, which gives lower interest rates and longer amortization periods to developments that either partner with an affordable housing initiative or keep rents 10 per cent below appraised rent potential and ensure they are at or below 30 per cent of the median household income for 10 years.
Furgus said the building follows the second route, but that consumers shouldn’t misconstrue "affordable" as an indication that luxury is off the table.
Designed by BLDG Architecture and built by Bockstael, 30UC features studio, one bed one bath, two bed one bath, and two bed two bath suites at rents ranging from $768 to $1,827 per month. High-end finishes in the units include quartz countertops, full-size in-suite washers and dryers, Kohler plumbing fixtures, Whirlpool appliances, walkout balconies, and floor to ceiling windows. There are also deceptively spacious walk-in closets in most units, and vinyl plank flooring. The seventh floor units have 10-foot ceilings.
There are also four "hotel" units that can be booked by residents for $90 per night. That’s an amenity Furgus said would be helpful to potential tenants, like international students or empty nesters with visiting relatives. None of the building’s suites are defined as accessible units, Furgus said.
The entire building also uses Logix ICF foam, manufactured in Headingley, a highly recyclable technology, to provide solid insulation and sound-proofing. An underground parkade has 38 extra-wide stalls, and there are 74 surface spots. And for the public transit-minded, Furgus said the lobby will include screens with bus routes and times.
Furgus said the building was envisioned to bring new options for housing to the Fort Garry neighbourhood, where for years residents have complained about the prevalence of illegal rooming houses. On the building site, which Paragon purchased for $1.5 million, there used to be two of those.
Since the company began operating five years ago, Paragon has developed over 30 projects with a value of over $120 million in Winnipeg, and while 30UC is by far the biggest, others — including six-unit buildings at Gertrude Street and Wellington Crescent and at 653 McMillan Avenue — are moving steadily along. The Gertrude building leased out all of its units in 11 days, and Furgus anticipates quick uptake on McMillan as well.
As for 30UC, the building is set for occupancy by January 2021 as long as it keeps to schedule.
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.
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