For several years, Jacques Vincent, founder of Montreal’s largest residential real estate developer Prével, and his daughter Laurence Vincent, who became Prével’s co-president last year, have been meeting weekly for lunch.
The 168-page paperback (Éditions Septentrion) honours Vincent’s father and outlines her vision of Montreal, its housing market and the real estate business.
“The idea was inside me for a long time,” says Vincent in an interview with RENX. “I worked with my father for almost 15 years. I have lots of admiration for him and what he did.”
Indeed, Vincent prefaces the book with a quote from Spanish novelist Carlos Ruiz Zafón that a good father “is someone whom a child would want to grow up to resemble.”
Book marks Prével’s 40th anniversary
The book coincides with the 40th anniversary of Prével, a name inspired from her father’s happy memories of a camping trip to Fort-Prével in the Gaspé. “It also enabled me to take a step back to reflect on the opportunity to take over a family firm,” she says.
Vincent writes that while growing up she dreamed of working for humanitarian organizations, but realized after working for Prével that she could improve people’s lots through residential real estate.
She says people in the real estate industry are increasingly aware of the important role they play in society: “We want to make a positive contribution to the city and we have an extremely important role because we leave a legacy to the city for decades or centuries.”
The book aims to demystify the image of real estate developers – especially condo builders.
Condos have few defenders
“Condos don’t get good press,” Vincent writes. Whether it’s articles that say there are too many, they’re too expensive, too small, only target young professionals and are inappropriate for families, “there aren’t too many ardent defenders of condos.”
However, each condo means another person in the city, she writes. “Every time a family chooses Montreal over the suburbs, it’s a small victory for sustainable development” and against urban sprawl.
“Densification is the response to urban sprawl,” writes Vincent. She wonders why the word is feared, and also doesn’t understand “how you can be in favour of sustainable development and against density.”
Vincent says condos can provide young people with a foothold in real estate which they can build upon as their asset increases in value.
Condos in the heart of the city can also be useful to families. However, Vincent writes that unlike Europeans or Asians, North Americans find it difficult to imagine living in a high-rise with their families.
Prével built Union sur le Parc, a 400-unit project on René Lévesque Boulevard near Atwater Avenue, with a number of three- and four-bedroom units well suited to families.
The development was ideally suited for children, with 30,000 square feet of green space, a mini-gym for children and a crafts room. But, while the project was a big success, many of the buyers were baby boomers – not the families for which the units were envisioned.
“The truth is that we don’t have control over who buys our units and what they do with them.”
Rejuvenating Montreal neighbourhoods
Vincent writes the transformation of the former Seville movie theatre, which closed in the 1980s, into the Le Seville condo development is probably the most striking example of how real estate can revitalize a neighbourhood.
“We were far from confident about this project,” as it was located on an area of Ste. Catherine Street that had become run down since the 1996 closure of the Montreal Forum.
However, there was a 36-hour wait before the sales office opened and the project sold out in three hours. The area — one of Canada’s most populous neighbourhoods — had seen little new construction for 20 years, which created a pent-up demand from long-time tenants who wanted to become owners.
Lowney sur Ville is the project that has most impacted Prevel’s history, Vincent writes. It began in 2003, lasted 12 years and brought 1,700 units and 2,000 residents to Griffintown. That area of Montreal “belonged to the past,” but has boomed as a residential area since Lowney was constructed.
Vincent also relates episodes of sexism and ageism she has faced in the industry. At one real estate panel, she was introduced only as Laurence Vincent of Prével , while the male participants were presented with their career bios and explanations of their statures within the industry.
Prior to her becoming co-president, a potential investor exclaimed: “You’re the next big boss? But you look just like a baby.”
Prével name a benefit
Still, Vincent insists such incidents were not in bad faith. People “don’t always understand the meaning of their words, their actions,” she says. Episodes like that have never put a brake on her career and the Prével name has “opened many doors for me,” she says in an interview.
Vincent writes there are still many opportunities for Prével, which has built 11,000 housing units over the years, despite the fact that in Montreal it’s increasingly difficult to find land and there are more regulations and players.
She says she wouldn’t choose anywhere else to develop, noting there are still parking lots and rundown buildings ripe for development.
In the meantime, Jacques Vincent continues to work for Prével as a strategic advisor and the weekly lunches continue.
At Table 45.