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Top-10 CRE transactions in the GTA in 2021

Commercial real estate investment activity in Ontario’s Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and Greater Go...

IMAGE: The SmartVMC development at the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre just north of Toronto. (Courtesy SmartCentres)

The acquisition of 53 additional acres of redevelopment property at the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre, by SmartCentres REIT, is one of the largest CRE transactions in the Greater Toronto Area during 2021. (Courtesy SmartCentres)

Commercial real estate investment activity in Ontario’s Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) regions increased significantly this year over the previous two years.

Altus Group compiled transaction activity statistics and came up with a list of the biggest individual deals for 2021. Ray Wong, vice-president of data operations for the Data Solutions division, spoke with RENX about the findings.

“This year is reflective of the overall confidence in real estate,” said Wong. “A lot of investors are looking at the GTA, but they’re also looking at opportunities just outside the GTA.”

Commercial real estate investment in the GTA (through Dec. 22) was $25.9 billion, compared to $16.8 billion in 2020 and $22.6 billion in 2019. Investment in the GGH hit $10.3 billion during the same period, compared to $4.6 billion in 2020 and $4.9 billion in 2019.

Wong attributes some of the increases to the onset of the pandemic in 2020, which caused investors to re-examine strategies and building owners to look at rebalancing their portfolios. It took some time to market assets and some properties that may have been listed, or were under consideration to be sold, didn’t sell until 2021.

“We’re seeing larger transactions happen in 2021 because there was more certainty from both buyers and sellers,” said Wong.

Increased GTA transaction volume

Altus Group broke down 2019 and 2021 activity in the GTA by asset class (as of Dec. 22) and came up with these numbers:

– Residential land transactions were $7.97 billion in 2021 compared to $4.43 billion in 2019.

– Industrial transactions were $7.08 billion compared to $4.40 billion in 2019.

– Industrial, commercial and investment (ICI) land transactions were $4.86 billion compared to $2.97 billion in 2019.

– Apartment transactions were $3.59 billion compared to $3.76 billion in 2019.

– Retail transactions were $3.33 billion compared to $2.22 billion in 2019.

– Office transactions were $2.68 billion compared to $4.07 billion in 2019.

– Residential lot transactions were $986 million compared to $653.7 million in 2019.

– Hotel transactions were $224.9 million compared to $90.5 million in 2019.

Breaking down the asset classes

“Demand for ICI land is pushing down Highway 401 into southwestern Ontario,” said Wong, citing Amazon’s expansion in London as an example.

“There’s still demand for residential land based on the scarcity of inventory. It’s continuing to move north, west and east, which is reflected in the transactions.”

At a time when the pandemic has raised questions about the future of brick-and-mortar retail, the 50 per cent increase in activity shows there’s still interest in the sector — even if it’s not always for traditional reasons.

“Private investors are looking for redevelopment of some parcels for mixed-use development,” said Wong.

Companies are still trying to get a grasp on hybrid work models and how much office space will be needed to accommodate social distancing and increased collaboration space. Wong is interested in seeing how that plays out and affects the office market.

“Office transactions are still happening even though there’s some uncertainty in that area,” he said. “People still look at these types of assets as having good returns, which shows some confidence in the office market.”

Wong believes 2021’s strong transaction activity will carry over into 2022.

Top-10 GTA transactions of 2021

IMAGE: The Kennedy Commons shopping centre in Scarborough is being sold by RioCan REIT and First Gulf. (Google Maps)

The Kennedy Commons shopping centre in Scarborough, sold by RioCan REIT and First Gulf to a private investor, was the GTA’s largest retail transaction in 2021. (Courtesy Google Maps)

The biggest GTA commercial real estate transaction of 2020 was QuadReal’s Oct. 9 acquisition of a 0.453-acre parcel of residential land at 480 Yonge St. in Toronto for $171.93 million. QuadReal acquired it from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice after Cresford Developments purchased it in November 2016 for $67 million. Cresford had plans to develop the 39-storey, 425-unit Halo Residences condominium, but the project went into receivership while it was under construction.

That deal wouldn’t have even cracked the top 10 in 2021.

Here are the 10 biggest transactions which had been announced and closed through Dec. 22, except for the second deal on the list, which closed late in the month:

    1. Artis REIT sold a 26-property industrial portfolio with nearly 2.5 million square feet of gross leasable area to Pure Industrial for $724.38 million in July and August. The portfolio, with properties scattered throughout the GTA, represents one of the largest ever seen in terms of the number of properties and total sale price.
    2. SmartCentres REIT paid $513 million to acquire a two-thirds interest in 53 acres of land at the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre, making it the largest property owner at the huge redevelopment site which is delivering a new, dense downtown to the northern GTA city. Multiple towers are currently under development at the VMC.
    3. H&R REIT sold the three-building Bell Creekbank Campus, occupied by Bell Canada, to Chicago-based Oak Street Real Estate Capital in October for $443.43 million. The Mississauga complex contains approximately 1.1 million square feet of leasable area and sits on approximately 28 acres of land that provides future opportunities for intensification.
    4. Rockport Group sold 22 John Street, a 369-unit rental building built in 2019, and 33 King Street, a 472-unit rental building built in 1974, for $338 million in September. The two Toronto apartment buildings were acquired by a joint venture involving Dream Unlimited (33.3 per cent), Dream Impact Trust (33.3 per cent) and Dream Impact Fund (33.3 per cent).
    5. Another major residential land transaction was a 1.4-acre parcel at 27 and 37 Yorkville Ave. in Toronto that’s site plan-approved for a gross floor area of approximately 961,161 square feet. The property was sold under receivership and acquired by Pemberton Group for $300 million in March. The previous owner was Cresford Developments, which originally acquired the site from KingSett Capital in December 2017 for $268.5 million.
    6. An office and retail complex totalling 259,234 square feet of gross leasable area at 99 Atlantic Ave. and 40 Hanna Ave. in Toronto’s Liberty Village neighbourhood sold for $240 million in November. PSP Investments and Kevric were the previous owners; Kevric’s new partner is Blackstone.
    7. The largest retail transaction of the year was Kennedy Commons in Scarborough, which was sold in December for $215 million. A RioCan REIT and First Gulf 50/50 joint venture sold the property at the southeast corner of Highway 401 and Kennedy Road to a local private investor. The fully occupied centre’s tenants include Chapters, LCBO, Metro, PetSmart and Kitchen Stuff Plus. It sits on almost 31 acres, which allows for potential future intensification.
    8. A 95-per cent interest in the Steeles Technology Campus in North York was acquired by a consortium of investors that included Crestpoint Real Estate Investments Ltd., North American Development Group and Hazelview Investments for $207.1 million in September. PSP Investments and Crestpoint were the vendors. The 45.5-acre site is comprised of three addresses on Steeles Avenue East and two on Victoria Park Avenue. It offers future redevelopment opportunities in addition to the existing four buildings, comprised of 645,377 square feet of office space that was 99 per cent occupied at the time of the sale.
    9. Ford Motor Company sold a 980,000-square-foot former distribution centre on a 58.8-acre site at 8000 Dixie Rd. in south Brampton to Panattoni Development Company for $194.46 million in June. The site is close to Highways 410 and 407 and will likely be redeveloped for industrial uses.
    10. Armadale Properties Limited sold its 50 per cent interest in the Toronto Buttonville Municipal Airport property to Cadillac Fairview for $192.89 million in May, which made Cadillac Fairview the sole owner. The 169-acre site remains in use as an airport but will likely be redeveloped. Development applications submitted in 2011 proposed a master-planned phased development that would add approximately 10 million square feet of mixed-use space to the site. The applications were appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board and subsequently withdrawn. No new application had been submitted at the time of the sale.

A GGH transaction just missed the Top-10 list: A portfolio of three properties in Waterloo and one in Kitchener was sold by Stamm Investments Limited to Killam Apartment REIT for $190.5 million in June. It contained 11 buildings and 785 rental apartment units.

Killam now owns more than 1,200 units in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, with an additional 1,300 to be developed in the coming years.

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