Real estate development: an interview with Hugh Gorman

CEO, Colonnade BridgePort
Sponsored by Carleton University
Future EDge Talent Ecosystem @ Carleton University (image courtesy: Carleton University).

Future EDge Talent Ecosystem @ Carleton University (image courtesy: Carleton University)

There are a multitude of skills needed to be successful in real estate development. It is a job that often has many moving parts and requires a broad depth of knowledge.

The Certificate in Real Estate Development from Future EDge @ Carleton University helps students understand and navigate the complexities involved with real estate development. Students of the program benefit from the experience of local architects, planners, developers and investors as they show how to excel in this expert environment.

Future EDge spoke with one of the instructors – Hugh Gorman, CEO of Colonnade BridgePort, a real estate investment and management company that has an active $1B development pipeline and is headquartered in Ottawa – about his take on real estate development and what students of the program can expect.

How would you define real estate development?

On its most basic level, real estate development involves creating value on an underutilized property such as a parcel of land or existing building. Value is created by understanding the market and defining a vision where supply and demand are in disequilibrium. That vision is then translated into a development project through a process of capital structuring, land acquisition/assembly, planning and entitlements, design, construction, marketing/sales/leasing, and ultimately stabilization or sale.

Given the complexity of the process involved — especially when combined with market fluidity — development is very much about identifying and mitigating risk, adapting to ever-changing circumstances, and keeping a broad team of professionals executing a strategy in unison. Developers often compare themselves to conductors of an orchestra in which the audience also participates!

At its broadest level, we might describe real estate development as an exercise in city building – an opportunity to contribute to the shape, integrity, and quality of the built environment. In the last 75 years, developers have produced most of what has been built in Canada. As such, developers garner the resources and coordinate the expertise required to create the places where most Canadians live, work, and shop. In this respect, we might describe real estate development as one of the most crucial, creative, and entrepreneurial endeavours there is. What we do and how we do it has a direct impact on the structure and quality of all our lives.

What are the various types of developers and development?

While most people associate development with ground-up construction projects, developers can choose to specialize in one aspect of the process. Some developers, for example, assemble land and “flip paper.” They create value by aggregating separate parcels. Because the size of a given site frequently affects what can be done with it, aggregating smaller properties into larger ones can create value.

Other developers focus on creating value by enhancing the entitlements through a rezoning, typically involving a change in use or an increase in density. Especially in urban areas, the value of land is a function of what can be built on it, which, among other things, is a function of how it is zoned. Land on which more can be built is more valuable. Because changing zoning can be a complicated and costly process, some developers prefer to buy “zoned” land, i.e., land for which another party has spent the time and effort to change the zoning.

Among developers who build, some build to sell and others build to hold. For example, some developers specialize in single-family houses or condominium units that are sold off. Others focus on rental units that produce a long-term income stream. Developers building assets that create income may choose to hold the assets once stabilized or sell them to one of the many investors looking for a stable income stream. Institutional investors including pension funds, asset management firms, and public companies, often don’t want to take development risks, but are willing buyers and offer an “exit” or “takeout” for a developer at stabilization.

Finally, there are developers that do it all, i.e., create value through land assembly, rezoning, and construction, and that lease and manage portions of their portfolio while selling off others. While some developers specialize in specific types of projects or “asset classes” others work across them.

In your opinion, why would a professional interested in real estate development participate in Carleton University’s Certificate in Real Estate Development program?

This program brings together a range of established professionals and subject-matter experts from across the country – architects, planners, developers, constructors, legal experts, financiers, and investors. Students benefit from the expertise of these individuals to understand the full process of developing real estate, from site selection to asset stabilization and disposition. The program instructors are passionate about their fields and committed to sharing their expertise. The program is geared both to those wanting to get involved in the industry and individuals who specialize in one area of development but want to understand the larger development process.

It’s an exceptional program!


Future EDge Talent Ecosystem @ Carleton University delivers innovative, human-centered professional development and executive education programs designed to enhance employability, career resilience, and community engagement.

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Future EDge Talent Ecosystem @ Carleton University delivers innovative, human-centered professional development and executive education programs designed to enhance employability, career resilience, and community engagement.

Read more




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