This article was originally published in the Globe and Mail on December 16, 2008
By Alex Bozikovic
Urbantopia—a cross between Brooklyn and Florence. Sixteen years from now, if you believe the brochure, that's what this muddy plain in Markham, Ontario, will become. For now, though, Canada's largest development is marked by construction cranes, the concrete shells of three rising towers, and a posse of real estate agents camped out in lawn chairs. In the parking lot beside the grand sales office for Downtown Markham, the agents' black BMWs and silver Lexus SUVs are being coated with dust by the passing cement trucks, but no one seems concerned. A couple of months from now, markets will plunge and real estate prices will stall, but for now, these agents are prepared to stay here for days, until units in the fifth Downtown Markham condo tower go on the market, ranging in price from $179,900 to $440,900.
Local agent Anissa Wong is buying a one-bedroom condo for one of her young clients, and the demand doesn't faze her. "They had one-week lineups for College Park 3," says Wong, name-dropping a wildly popular condo project that went on sale in downtown Toronto last year. "And here, the prices are cheaper than downtown. It's going to be very green, very different from downtown. Maybe you want to buy one?"
Markham has never seen anything like this—the sort of buying frenzy typical of overheated markets in downtown Toronto or Vancouver, where young professionals are desperate to carve out a place in the city centre. Just a generation ago, the suburb northeast of Toronto was a string of rural villages. Today, it is Canada's fastest-growing municipality, a sprawling collection of cookie-cutter subdivisions, shopping malls and big-box power centres.
Downtown Markham's developer, the Remington Group Inc., aims to reshape the suburbs, and it's betting billions of dollars that urban communities are the way of the future. When the project is completed, some time around 2025, it will house more than 10,000 people in a mix of townhouse blocks and condo towers, and employ 16,000 people in almost four million square feet of pedestrian-friendly retail and office space. There will be acres of parkland and a large central piazza. To top it off, the entire project—by far the largest mixed-use development in the country—will adhere to the gold standard for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
The man behind Downtown Markham is Rudy Bratty. He's the prolific developer who, over the past 50 years, has turned his father's small building operation into a real estate empire worth over $1 billion (Bratty's personal fortune has been pegged at around $750 million). He's also the man largely responsible for transforming thousands of acres of farmland around Toronto, including much of Markham and one massive, 4,600-acre tract in Mississauga, into curvy streets packed with mass-produced, single-family homes. All told, tens of thousands of people live in Bratty's developments.
More: Read the full article