Vancouver Commercial Real Estate Podcast

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March 16, 2022
VCREP #42: Canada’s Fastest Growing City with Jon Friesen

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Recently named Canada’s fastest growing city with a 14% increase in population since 2016, tune in and find out what the head of one of the Kelowna’s premium development companies has to say.

This week, Cory Wright and special guest host Nathan Armour welcome to the show Jon Friesen, CEO of the Mission Group, the development company behind some of Kelowna’s spectacular tower developments, including The Brooklyn, The Bernard Block office tower, and the forthcoming Aqua development in the Lower Mission district.

Jon discusses why Kelowna has seen such a massive growth over the past 5 years and what the future looks like, as well as what’s next for the Mission Group. Kelowna is one of Canada’s most watched real estate markets as of late, so this is one episode not to miss out on!

Who is Jon Friesen?

I’m the CEO of Mission Group. We’re an organization that is learning a lot and moving through the ranks. I moved back to Kelowna after seven years of doing community work in Grand Cayman. I decided to reengage with the property development industry at that time. I started with Mission Shores, which launched in 2003, and we’ve been building since then. Mission Group has less than a 20 year history.

Can you tell us about Mission Group’s latest project, Aqua, in Kelowna?

Aqua has been a labour of love. We’ve owned the property since 2007. It’s three condominium towers; the first tower has launched and is completely sold out. We’re doing the final release this summer. You can register for that on our website.

I’m proud of what our marketing group has done with Aqua. This is premium product. This same product would be twice the price in Vancouver. It is a premium price for Kelowna and it’s not downtown – it’s in the Mission district – so there are no issues. It’s a high amenity neighbourhood, very walkable, next to the greenway, and you have direct lakefront access with nothing that will ever be built to block your view. Delivery time is about a two and a half year build.

Let’s talk about Downtown Kelowna. Can you tell us about the office building Mission Group is building in Downtown Kelowna?

We call our office tower The Block and it’s next to Bertram, which is our condo tower. The Block is just coming out of the ground and it’s the only Class A office building in Kelowna. It’s an extremely amenity-rich place to work and live.

Living downtown has a flavour of its own. It’s not the same Downtown Kelowna as when I first moved here. You can enjoy the waterfront and the little shops and restaurants. Our office building and the whole complex will be a good bookend to what’s happening on the waterfront side. We’re actually moving our corporate office there and I can’t wait. The Block is estimated to complete 18 months from now.

What other markets in BC is Mission Group interested in?

Our strategic plan at Mission Group focuses on the Okanagan, north as far as Vernon, south as far as Penticton, east as far as Kamloops and west to the Lower Mainland. Kelowna is in the centre of what we do. We don’t have anything on the go in the Lower Mainland but we are always looking. We may go for a light industrial play instead of residential.

We understand Mission Group is working on a piece of land outside the downtown core of Kelowna. What’s your plan for this site?

It’s a four acre site that used to be an old industrial yard and cold storage site, and is encircled by an old mill site. We’re in the process of creating a community plan and consulting with the community. The City is bringing forward the needs of local residents. It’s going to be a beautiful site by the water; a place you want to walk around with your grandkids. We’re expecting a lot of mixed use properties. I think it will be a showstopper when it’s completed.

We have an opportunity to do something that everyone in North America can point to and say, “That’s how you plan a community!” We aren’t into the specifics yet, but I’m excited. There’s a massive bike trail through the site all the way to Vernon that shows what a great site this will be for outdoor life. It is one of the biggest potentials of my career.

Where will Kelowna be in a few years? Why has Kelowna become so popular?

Kelowna has become a focal point. We can’t supply enough homes for the people who are moving to Kelowna. People want to live here and be part of the lifestyle Kelowna offers. There are plenty of jobs – our unemployment rate is lower than it was before the pandemic.

Organizations outside of Kelowna are now taking Kelowna seriously. We’re now partnering with two big institutional investors out of Alberta and Vancouver. They recognize the seriousness of Kelowna and its place as a great city.

UBC has seen the potential of Downtown Kelowna and Kelowna in general. The attention from institutional investors and academic institutions attracts professionals who want to raise their families here. It’s hard to imagine that trend ending anytime soon.

I don’t know where prices will go but we haven’t seen any change in the Kelowna real estate market in the last few weeks. The demand is still as hot as it has been.

Are there other areas in Kelowna and the Okanagan where Mission Group is developing?

We’re looking at land in Lake Country and in Vernon. We’re under construction on a purpose-built rental in Penticton. We have an active project in the Lower Mission and another in the pipeline. We also just closed on an acquisition in that area that will be a cool, little, boutique condo across from a waterfront park. We’re very interested in Kelowna and shift our product type depending on the local area.

What cities and projects around the world do you draw inspiration from?

We’re constantly looking at what other cities are doing. We were just looking at how to incorporate water into properties and looking at places like Venice and Amsterdam. There are also interesting examples in the Middle East where canals and waterways are brought into mixed use residences. Monte Carlo is a waterfront community we often look at.

We like to ask: What is good about this place and how did it get to be that way? Members of our team who travel always come back with interesting observations we can incorporate locally.

Where are the buyers of your Kelowna projects coming from?

Vancouver. Many of our buyers for our Kelowna projects are from Vancouver. For someone from Vancouver, Kelowna real estate is not pricy at all. They think this is a bargain! Our customers are 70% Vancouverites.

How did you first get into real estate development?

I stumbled into development. Straight out of university, I was working for a large Japanese trading company. I realized I’m more of an entrepreneur so began working as a trading consultant. One of my clients was a local developer in Vancouver who taught me about the business. I then formed my own business with a local partner who knew more about the industry. I brought in investors from Japan and we completed a project called 1000 Beach next to the Burrard Bridge. It’s a 26 storey highrise building with a marina, which was inspired by Monte Carlo. That was almost four decades ago.

Will Downtown Kelowna keep expanding?

Absolutely! There’s so much runway for Kelowna to grow into a proper city. I look forward to when Downtown Kelowna is even more vibrant and amenity-rich than it is right now. There’s so much opportunity here. Just the Bernard Avenue corridor itself is very under-built.

Where is Kelowna in 5 years? How is Mission Group part of Kelowna’s future?

Moving forward, we want to be part of making Kelowna a great city. We want all of Kelowna, not just our partners and customers, to be successful and benefit from how we build.

How developers approach their job is so important. Years from now, when people forget who planned or built a project, they will still experience life based on how great the city is. If we at Mission Group do a good job, I think Kelowna will be a better place to live. We have a responsibility we need to take seriously. Our future is bright because Kelowna’s future is bright. If we can contribute to making it even brighter, that’s a job well done.

What advice do you have for someone getting into commercial real estate?

Concentrate on the location first, not the price.

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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.

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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.