Vancouver Commercial Real Estate Podcast

Providing real-time insight into today's commercial real estate industry.

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February 23, 2022
VCREP #39: Is Nanaimo the New Victoria for Commercial Real Estate? With Jacob Steiner

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If you don’t recognize the Steiner family name, you will recognize their retail history—from A&B Sound to a Western Canada retail portfolio that would make even the best investors jealous. This week, Cory and Adam welcome Jacob Steiner, the man in charge of special projects for Steiner Properties, to talk about everything from the incredible A&B Sound family story to their newest Nanaimo project at 1 Commercial Street.

Tune in as Jacob walks us through why Nanaimo is finally ready for Steiner Properties’ next project, the explosive growth of Nanaimo, and the redevelopment of the downtown core of one of BC’s best port cities. If you have watched the real estate boom take over Victoria over the past few years, you have to ask yourself, is Nanaimo next? This is absolutely an episode you don’t want to miss out on!

Who is Jacob Steiner?

I didn’t think I was going into real estate at first. But after my hockey dreams were crushed, I was looking for something new. A family friend told me there was a good real estate program at BCIT so I started that after a few years at UBC. I’m now full into it. Real estate occupies my day to day life. I love it. It touches on so many other industries and I couldn’t imagine doing something else.

What is Steiner Properties Ltd.?

It’s a family-founded business but now many different people from different backgrounds have joined the team. It started out as a record company but became a real estate company as it was expanding, which was a fallback plan. We’ve recently gotten into restoring properties, as well as knocking down and building from scratch. We have a project on Hastings that we’re finally out of the ground on.

We’re not sellers. Anything that was a previous A&B Sound record shop of ours, which is a mixed bag of office, retail and industrial, is mostly still in our portfolio. We have rental housing and fitness centres. We’ve fallen into the real estate industry and we’re defining what works for us.

Can you tell us about your project on 1 Commercial Street in Nanaimo?

Nanaimo has seen a huge increase in activity recently. We’re a small team so we can’t take on too many restoration projects in a year. Nanaimo makes sense to us now. We have the resources to handle this project and the market is ready for it. The external factors have to be in place first.

What are you seeing in the Nanaimo real estate market?

The real estate market on the Island was meant to blow up 10-20 years ago but it hasn’t until now. It’s a constrained area with ocean on both sides, there’s incredible natural environments for outdoor activities, and there’s well-designed downtown areas.

But it’s hard to invest in a project if you don’t know if people will be there to rent or buy the property you’re building. We’re seeing those people coming into Nanaimo now and as a company, we’re ready. This project is a restoration so we’re not building something brand new.

What is your plan for 1 Commercial Street? We understand you’re adding to the second floor?

Our plan is to leave the purpose of the second floor to the market. We want to design it so that it’s a blank space and anyone can come in and tell us what they want to do with it. A lot of businesses could fit into one of the opportunities in our portfolio.

We have a number of fitness studios across our portfolio and regardless of pandemic, you can’t replace fitness and wellness as an industry. Nanaimo doesn’t really have wellness services like that. We’re also very interested in experiential retail.

After operating a record business that was totally disrupted by technology, we’re using that lens in our real estate business to look at what is sustainable and what will survive.

Why are you excited about Nanaimo real estate? How is downtown Nanaimo changing?

The Island still has a bit of that hippy culture and there’s so much potential for someone to step up and help the community put their mark on the area. I love that opportunity. Watching cities start to define themselves is exciting. That’s what we’re seeing in Nanaimo and why we’re all in on this project.

What challenges are you finding with this site in Nanaimo?

Half of the building is almost underground. If you chopped it up in a traditional retail way, you’d have very narrow, deep units with no natural light. Instead, we decided to flip the building on its side. Now it looks more like a food court or a market with a completely different look and feel than anything else downtown.

It sounds like you’re revitalizing the downtown core of Nanaimo.

We’re not alone in that. We’re fortunate to be the new kid on the block and the smallest group of competitive developers in Nanaimo. We see that there are hotels being developed downtown – we’re not downtown developers but maybe we can build something that the people who stay at those hotels can enjoy. We’re ready to be a catalyst for downtown Nanaimo.

What other real estate markets in BC are you excited about?

I was just west of Revelstoke for a trip and I can’t get enough of Revelstoke. I love Fernie, the lake country, Pemberton – there are so many small towns in BC that are primed for being built into really great places for the communities and the overall economy.

A lot of towns on the Island excite me as well. They’re all great places but they’re just taking their time. People aren’t pulling the trigger on these projects yet. We’re moving a little slower but I’m excited about where these small towns are going.

You mentioned that you’re not sellers with your previous A&B Sound sites. What is your real estate strategy?

When you purchase property many years ago and operate a business at that property, you’re able to pay it off. That means we don’t have as much debt as some other companies. We like to keep it that way. We don’t build a lot outside of what our operations can pay off, besides the project on Hastings that we’re working on with BC Housing.

Most of our other projects are in restoration and maintenance and are done within our cash flow. We’re not operating in a traditional approach and we look at opportunities very differently. A new project has to make sense to us from a different position than many other developers would take.

We have started looking at new opportunities within the portfolio, so our strategy may change. There is some regional separation between our A&B Sound sites. We want to have the same synergy in our portfolio as we did when we were owner-operators. We’re looking into electric vehicle charging stations to link the properties, as well as other options for building that synergy.

What advice do you have for someone entering commercial real estate?

If you can find people who are open to new ideas or find something that carves out joy in some way, it’s a lot more fun. I’ve tried my hand at a few things and learned from experts in their fields. Keep your optimism level high. This is an open industry for new ideas. I can’t encourage creative people enough to get involved.

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Vancouver Commercial Real Estate Podcast

For all the curious minds interested in commercial real estate investing, grab a coffee and pull up a chair because we have exclusive stories and tips from commercial real estate brokers, investors, developers, economists, urban planners, and everyone in-between. From the successes and failures to the motivations and lessons learned, the Vancouver Commercial Real Estate Podcast is your insight into commercial real estate in Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna, and beyond.

What's the best real estate market to invest in? What are the commercial real estate asset classes and property types? Hosted by Cory Wright, founder of William Wright Commercial, and co-hosts Adam and Matt Scalena of the Vancouver Real Estate Podcast, our podcast opens the door to real estate investing for everyone from beginner investors to experienced real estate professionals. New episodes are released every Tuesday. Follow the Vancouver Commercial Real Estate Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or your favourite streaming platforms.

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This communication is not intended to cause or induce breach of an existing agency agreement. E&OE: All information contained herein is from sources deemed reliable, and have no reason to doubt its accuracy; however, no guarantee or responsibility is assumed thereof, and it shall not form any part of future contracts. Properties are submitted subject to errors and omissions and all information should be carefully verified. All measurements quoted herein are approximate.