Ottawa real estate investment and management company Colonnade BridgePort’s first move into the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) was both successful and short-lived. In the past couple of years, though, it’s been establishing an ever-firmer footprint in the market.
Colonnade BridgePort has made a name for itself in Ottawa over the past 35-plus years.
In 2017, it bought a property along Highway 427 and planned to use it as a springboard to enter the GTA, but got a strong offer to sell before executing its strategy.
“Within six months, we were in and out of the market,” chief executive officer Hugh Gorman told RENX.
Colonnade BridgePort returned a short time later, after accepting an invitation from an Ottawa institutional partner to assist with some challenged assets in Richmond Hill. The company has continued to grow in the GTA, and is now involved with just under three million square feet of properties, largely through connections with Ottawa clients who hold portfolios in the region.
“It was a natural progression to go into the GTA,” said Gorman. “We see significant opportunities for growth in our services business, but also on the investment side in terms of diversifying and where we’re deploying equity.
“Our model is that we work a lot with institutional partners in our services business and, when we find opportunities, we often invest alongside our institutional partners.”
Colonnade BridgePort’s services
Colonnade BridgePort is a full-service real estate company offering property management and leasing services, acquisition, development, investment management and asset management for commercial and residential properties.
In addition to its Ottawa headquarters, it has also opened a second location in the city as well as offices in Mississauga and Toronto.
Colonnade BridgePort manages more than eight million square feet of commercial real estate throughout Ontario. It’s involved with more than 120 properties, more than 200 annual lease transactions and approximately 1,500 tenants.
The firm has worked on establishing a solid infrastructure and platform and adding people to support its GTA growth. Its two most recent hires, Colin Ross as director of GTA leasing and Chris Coleman as director of asset management, are the next steps in its evolution.
“We don’t create markets, but we have to be able to make sure that we can execute at the asset level,” said Gorman. “We’ve got to be adaptable to market conditions and make sure that we’re adapting strategies on an asset-by-asset basis to meet those objectives.”
Colonnade BridgePort’s GTA portfolio
Colonnade BridgePort’s move southwest from Ottawa has seen it become involved with a lot of small and mid-sized assets in cities including Mississauga, Hamilton, Cambridge, Kitchener-Waterloo, Brampton and Richmond Hill.
“We’ve got everything from suburban office to small-bay industrial to larger-bay industrial to retail,” said Gorman. “We’re really covering the spectrum of asset classes, and it’s predominantly a services portfolio for our key clients.”
Colonnade BridgePort remains an active developer in Ottawa and is looking for opportunities to reposition assets or develop new properties in the GTA. Gorman wants the company to become a more important player in the market and is making that a priority before considering a move into another new region.
“We’re long-term believers in Toronto, and our business model is such that we’re building for the long term,” he said. “There are more than enough opportunities there to satisfy our appetite for scaling up.”
Dealing with COVID-19 challenges
COVID-19 has negatively impacted the Canadian commercial real estate market, both for owners and tenants. Gorman wants to help good tenants survive, but he acknowledges there will be casualties.
Colonnade BridgePort’s leasing team is spending 70 per cent of its time dealing with COVID-19-related issues as opposed to new leasing, according to Gorman, and he concedes it won’t be as easy to do business in the future.
“We’re going to have to adapt to a market where there are more vacancies across the board, specifically in retail, and ultimately in office with the sub-lease space coming to the market.
“We know the markets we’re in. We’re active and we know the brokers and the tenants and we’re going to have to work that much harder to make sure that we generate consistent revenue out of the portfolio.”