Mike Bonneveld has had a pretty eventful first 13 months as Skyline Industrial REIT president, overseeing a number of acquisitions and dispositions along with advancing new developments.
The privately owned and managed real estate investment trust that launched in 2012 sold the last office asset in its portfolio, a building at 380 Hunt Club Rd. in Ottawa, for $4.08 million in February.
Much of the first half of this year has also been spent incorporating 2022 acquisitions into the portfolio and getting Skyline’s property management and leasing teams more familiar with the properties, according to Bonneveld.
While the exponential industrial asset rent growth of the past few years has slowed, demand is still high and outpacing supply in most major markets — especially Montreal, which Bonneveld feels has been underbuilt for decades.
“Even though Montreal is the second-largest industrial market in Canada, a lot of the space that's in that inventory is very old,” Bonneveld told RENX.
“You've got a lot of low-clear-height space that's not conducive to some of the newer requirements and needs from tenants right now.”
Partnerships with Rosefellow
Skyline is doing its part to fill this gap in Montreal, and also in Ottawa, through a partnership with Montreal-based Rosefellow.
It’s part of a strategy to spend more time and resources on development partnerships, which started with a Calgary project in collaboration with Highfield Investment Group.
Bonneveld said Rosefellow and another of its private equity group partners aren’t interested in being long-term owners at this point, which has opened up opportunities for Skyline.
“There’s some added value for us from that development stage, but the end goal for us on the development side was always to end up with best-in-class assets,” Bonneveld explained.
“This was a mechanism for us to get that flow of top-quality product that we want, but also have a hand in who the tenants are and what the lease structure is like, and really kind of massage and guide what that portfolio looks like as opposed to being one of 10 to 20 bidders on an asset.”
Two of the Rosefellow-partnered developments have been completed, acquired by Skyline and fully leased. Four more should be completed this year and acquired by the end of 2023 or early in 2024.
Those properties account for approximately 800,000 square feet. About 75 per cent of that space is pre-leased and another 15 per cent is close to being leased.
New industrial developments
Skyline Industrial REIT, which is distributed as an alternative investment product through Skyline Wealth Management Inc., continues to focus on developing new, purpose-built industrial properties to capitalize on the growing needs of the supply chain.
The Guelph-based REIT has broken ground on four development projects so far this year and several others are nearing completion.
The developments, which will add more than 2.2 million square feet of industrial space to the Montreal and Halifax markets, are:
- approximately 588,000 square feet of logistical space in Kirkland, Que., on the Island of Montreal. Construction began in June and all three phases are slated for completion in 2024;
- 491,000 square feet of industrial space at 131 Montcalm Blvd. N. in Candiac, Que. Construction began in June and should be completed by the end of 2024;
- 126,000 square feet of industrial space at 450 Rue Paul-Gaugion in Candiac. Construction began in June and should be completed by the end of this year;
- more than 320,000 square feet of purpose-built logistical space at 3601 Avenue de la Gare in Mascouche, Que. The property will include a 226,000-square-foot cold-storage facility with Congebec as the long-term primary tenant. The building will be completed this quarter;
- approximately 97,000 square feet of logistical space on Rue Notre-Dame Est near Montreal’s port facilities. The building is fully leased and nearly complete;
- a 270,000-square-foot warehousing and storage facility that’s fully leased to two tenants and nearly complete at 6000 Trans Canada Highway in Pointe-Claire, Que. Delivery to tenants is imminent; and
- an approximately 400,000-square-foot, multi-phase, net-zero development at Bayer’s Lake Business Park in Halifax. Construction has commenced and is slated for completion in Q3 2024.
Two additional projects totalling approximately 800,000 square feet should be completed in 2025.
Skyline continues to incorporate annual rental rate increases in new leases and many of the new developments have been pre-leased prior to completion, showing that demand for quality industrial space remains strong.
The REIT recently extended its lease with ZF Automotive in Windsor, Ont., securing its tenancy through 2036.
ZF will also expand with a 52,000-square-foot addition to its existing building that will be completed by Q4 2023.
While Skyline’s focus is now exclusively on industrial properties, it also sold two assets this year.
Skyline sold a single-tenant industrial building at 500 Saint-Louis St. in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., for $10.8 million.
While negotiating a long-term lease renewal with tenant EvoluPak Plastique, which would basically double the rent, the tenant expressed interest in buying the property instead.
It made an offer Skyline believed was higher than the property’s worth — even with the new rents in place — and a deal was struck.
Skyline also sold its interest in a 26.17-acre industrial redevelopment site at 2800 Rue Andre in Dorval, Que., which it owned along with Rosefellow, for $88 million in Q2 2023.
It’s a trucking facility with tenants in place and was viewed by the partners as a long-term development play where a building of approximately 600,000 square feet could have been constructed.
Skyline had received unsolicited offers for the property – valued at more than twice what it paid for it a year-and-a-half earlier – and decided to put it on the market late last year.
“Even though the goal of the fund is to develop assets, we looked at it and said we think we'll make virtually as much money by selling the asset, not taking on the development risk and not waiting five years,” Bonneveld observed.
“At the end of the day, the business is about making money for our investors and not necessarily building ego buildings across the country with Skyline signs on them.
“It was the right decision and we took that capital and redeployed it back into the existing development pipeline and were able to use a bunch of equity from the profit from that sale . . . that we didn't have to then go and raise from our investors.”
Skyline had a portfolio of 59 properties encompassing 9.21 million square feet and valued at $1.52 billion as of March 31. Its occupancy rate was 98.3 per cent.
Skyline will continue to focus on acquiring and developing light industrial, logistics and warehousing properties along major highway corridors, transportation routes and global shipping outlets across Canada.
“Given the nature of the market right now, we're trying to be really opportunistic and we're in a very good position from a balance sheet standpoint,” said Bonneveld.
“We’ve got one asset under contract in Ontario and we're looking at a couple of other opportunities, but being very selective.”
Some owners who may not have been vendors in the past may be looking to sell now and Bonneveld said the potential transaction market has become more active again in the past 60 days.
He’s hoping interest rates will peak by September and that, after a period of stability, they’ll drop to around three per cent within two years.
Bonneveld said the REIT is also looking at further pruning the portfolio and selling assets that no longer fit the ownership strategy as well as they once did.
Environmental and sustainability initiatives
ESG factors are becoming more important with industrial assets and Bonneveld said Skyline is examining ways to add value and make money for investors through such things as more solar power and looking at the benefits of carbon credits.
About two-thirds of Skyline’s new Montreal and Ottawa developments will be net-zero carbon, according to Bonneveld.