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IN8 finds niche for high-density development in GTA-area cities

Developer has major projects in Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton, Kingston and looks to expand

30 Francis Street, the 45-storey downtown Tek Tower in Kitchener, is under development by IN8 Developments. (Courtesy IN8)
The 45-storey Tek Tower at 30 Francis St. in downtown Kitchener is under development by IN8 Developments. (Courtesy IN8)

A glut of high-rise developers in Toronto spurred the managers of IN8 Developments to ply their trade further afield and it’s proving a judicious choice.

“The first thing I recognized getting into this business is there’s a lot of high-density developers and high-rise developments in Toronto and it’s hard to break into,” Darryl Firsten, president of IN8 Developments, told RENX. “A lot of people have owned their land generationally or multi-generationally, so they have a lot of chips to play with.”

IN8 was founded in 2009 in Waterloo and began constructing purpose-built student apartments and condos, but Firsten noticed the need for intensification in mid-sized cities within a two-hour radius of Toronto.

“There are lots of real estate developers outside of Toronto, but they tend to focus on low-rise and maybe some mid-rise,” Firsten continued. 

“We found there’s a gap with not a lot of developers focused on real high-density, urban, centre-of-the-city, highly walkable housing on a transit line.”

High-rise developments in Kitchener

Currently on the go in Kitchener are the 45-storey TEK Tower at 30 Francis St.; and 88 Queen Street, a 600-unit, 44-storey condo, while another 44-storey tower at 26 Charles St. is conditionally site plan-approved.

That’s following the completion of another downtown tower standing 39 storeys tall.

While Toronto’s planning department frustrates developers with long wait times for rezoning and site-plan approvals, the mid-sized cities in which IN8 builds are a mixed bag.

“Some markets we deal with want to see more housing, but don’t have as much experience as Toronto, so it’s kind of a learning process to get high-density and do intensification,” Firsten said.

“They all want to be in the right place, and for some it’s just a matter of getting rid of the cobwebs to get there.

"Hamilton is getting there as well. They all want to see more building."

Kitchener is different, he added, and that’s why IN8 has, to date, completed 16 developments in the city. Another seven are in the development phase and two are under construction.

More affordable cities outside the GTA

“They get it. it’s a wonderful municipality to work with,” Firsten said. “They get what’s going on; they need more housing and they want to see it happen. They want to see it built and built big.

"They’re saying, ‘We only have so much land to work with, so how do we get as many homes on that land as we can?’ ”

Greater Golden Horseshoe municipalities like Kitchener are poised to play pivotal roles as Canada’s population continues surging and the 416 area code increasingly becomes an exclusive domain for the well-heeled due to land and development costs.

Chris Karram, managing partner at SafeBridge Private Wealth, noted homebuyers typically left Toronto for satellite cities because they could afford ground-related homes, but population growth is now rendering that implausible for more buyers.

“We’re at a point in time where our housing supply is so unbelievably limited that it’s forcing people to reconsider the big city in favour of smaller cities,” Karram observed.

“When you’re faced with the option of buying something outside of the city that’s still going to be more than you want to spend, in terms of detached and townhouses, there’s a market for people who will consider those taller buildings.”

Projects in Hamilton, Waterloo

1107 Main St., W. in Hamilton is a 15-storey midrise being developed by IN8. (Courtesy IN8)
1107 Main Street in Hamilton is a 15-storey mid-rise being developed by IN8. (Courtesy IN8)

In neighbouring Waterloo, IN8 is in the planning stage of developing six towers, ranging between 25 and 39 storeys, across a four-acre property.

Hamilton is another city IN8 set its sights on recently. Its current project, 77 James Street — the former Eaton Centre — is a master-planned community on a 3.5-acre site with one 26- and three 30-storey towers comprising more than 2,000 units. 

Firsten said construction on the “dead-centre downtown” project is slated to begin next year and should take eight to 10 years to complete.

“Hamilton’s LRT will run on King Street and we’re right at King and James,” he said. “It’s the equivalent of Yonge and Dundas in Toronto. It’s dead-centre.”

IN8 is soon launching 1107 Main Street, a 15-storey mid-rise with 263 units located at the edge of downtown Hamilton. The project is located right by McMaster University and the Hamilton Health Sciences’ West End Clinic and Urgent Care Centre.

“When you’re near a good university, you get good quality jobs that come out of it,” Firsten said, adding IN8 prizes cities with top-notch universities because they typically create well-paying local jobs.

“There are better incomes in those cities and good jobs.”

"High barriers to entry" in Kingston

Another city with a premier university is Kingston. Queen’s University is known globally for medicine, cancer research, data analytics, geo-engineering and more.

IN8 completed Sage Kingston a couple of years ago at 652 Princess St. at the corner of Albert Street, a 10-storey, 324-unit mid-rise.

It has begun construction nearby on the student-oriented Crown Condos at 223 Princess St. — a 12-storey, 182-unit building slated for completion in late 2024.

It has another project at 64 Barrack St. that’s in site-plan approval, targeting 25 floors and 287 units. 

Despite what Firsten called “very high barriers to entry for development,” Kingston meets a couple of salient criteria IN8 has for choosing where to build.

“(Kingston) is a very stable economy,” Firsten said. “It has a university and it has big government offices there.

"The university attracts a lot of overseas students and it has a wealth of students from across Canada. It’s a beautiful city.”

IN8 looks ahead

IN8 is also in rezoning for a 16-storey tower at 200 Albert St. in London, which Firsten said could be resolved by year’s end.

Guelph remains a market IN8 hasn’t entered, but upon which it has designs. It’s close to IN8’s Waterloo headquarters and its construction team is nearby. 

“Guelph is where we expect to be in the future,” Firsten said.

“In Kitchener, we build mid-40 storeys, but it’s more challenging in Guelph with the planning process. However, it looks like things are moving in the right direction.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was updated to include correct totals for the number of units in the 1107 Main (Hamilton) and Sage Kingston projects. RENX apologizes for the errors.

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