The Gray Group has grown and evolved considerably from its 1979 origins as Gray’s Optical and the Charlottetown-based company is making preparations for its biggest development yet, The Crossroads in nearby Stratford, P.E.I.
More properties were acquired as the retail chain evolved into Vogue Optical and grew in size until being sold in 2012 and additional land and buildings with other tenants were also purchased. The Gray Group has continued to develop, purchase and manage real estate, primarily commercial.
The Gray Group’s portfolio is heavily weighted in retail, with some light industrial and manufacturing properties, and it also has federal government tenants in office properties.
“We’re actively searching for new properties throughout Atlantic Canada and would consider beyond that,” The Gray Group president Trevor MacLeod told RENX. “We’re cleaning up our portfolio a little bit and getting rid of some of the smaller markets and smaller single-tenant properties and concentrating on larger footprints and more substantial properties.”
The Gray Group’s properties are primarily based in secondary markets in Atlantic Canada. Some of the more prominent include: federal government offices on Weldon Street in Moncton; a property with retail at grade and a law firm office above it in Charlottetown; and a Canada Revenue Agency call centre in Mount Pearl, N.L.
“We do all of our management and administration in-house and don’t use third-party management companies,” said MacLeod. “We grew out of a retail background so we can really identify with our tenants.”
The Crossroads back story
The Gray Group is diversifying its portfolio with The Crossroads, a residential mixed-use development on land it acquired in Stratford from Kel-Mac Inc. in the fall of 2018 for an undisclosed price.
“The town has been one of the fastest-growing communities in Atlantic Canada for the last number of years,” said MacLeod. “Our owners live in Stratford and I’m a Stratford resident as well.
“What’s unique about Stratford is that the town grew around a core piece of property that was never developed, so all of a sudden you had a single parcel of land with a single owner in the core of a town that’s a greenfield site. We engaged our urban planners to come up with a plan and they said they’d never seen that.
“It’s such a unique opportunity to have a strategic long-term vision as opposed to developing with a piecemeal approach on a parcel-by-parcel basis. We’ve worked closely with the municipality of Stratford to come up with a plan that fulfills a lot of the planning and desires that they’ve had for the past 15 or 20 years.”
Stratford has a population of approximately 10,000 and has been growing at an annual rate of 3.58 per cent over the past 15 years.
Plans for The Crossroads
The Gray Group’s comprehensive plan spans 102.6 acres and includes an estimated 2,635 residential units with a mix of single-family, duplex, townhome and higher density multifamily offerings.
There are also plans for about 257,000 square feet of new commercial space, some stand-alone and some as part of mixed-use buildings, and 44,000 square feet of light industrial space.
The Gray Group has met with provincial and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation officials to discuss options regarding the affordability of units.
The Gray Group is also considering assisted-living facilities as part of the residential mix to further improve options available to those seeking housing. It would look for partners for this endeavour.
The Crossroads will be designed around environmentally sensitive and wetland areas that have already been identified and an emphasis will be placed on walkability.
Using a recently completed traffic study, The Gray Group will build new roads to manage and improve existing traffic flows.
“In order to accomplish the entire development under the current plan, we need to build 2.9 kilometres worth of new roadways,” said MacLeod. “If we were to do the development and accommodate the same number of residents in single-family homes, we’d have to build 22.7 kilometres worth of roadways.
“The difference there is approximately 73,000 kilometres in vehicular distance traveled on an annual basis that won’t have to happen and infrastructure that won’t have to be maintained as a result.”
Density and infrastructure planning
The proposed residential density is about 22 units per acre, which allows for shorter commutes and pedestrian-friendly access, while reducing urban sprawl and protecting surrounding rural areas and agricultural land.
Other potential highlights of The Crossroads include: underground parking; rooftop rainwater storage systems; a central urban park; and significant parkland and trail development, including a 3.1-metre-wide multi-use cycling lane.
The Gray Group is also exploring alternative energy and heat sources, such as geothermal heat and solar power, and features such as flat green roofs that include vegetation.
“We want to explore all of the options available to us to get as close to net-zero as is economically feasible,” said MacLeod.
The Crossroads’ overall concept plans will go before Town of Stratford councillors this fall for proposed minor variances and zoning adjustments as well as the potential creation of a new zone that would allow for more density.
“We’ve been working closely with them over the past two years on this development plan and they’re fully aware of what’s coming and have been very supportive up to this point,” said MacLeod.
MacLeod anticipates having all zoning in place by the end of this year and getting into the ground to construct higher-density residential buildings in 2022.
He forecasts a seven-phase development that will take 15 to 20 years to complete and be built as demand dictates.
The Gray Group’s other current projects
The Gray Group has another separate residential project in Stratford called Kelly Heights that will feature single-family, duplex and townhome lots. The first phase of 43 lots is under construction and 35 are under contract after two months of marketing.
Similar second and third phases would follow over the next few years. MacLeod would like to get out of the ground on Phase 2 by the end of 2022 and then gauge demand to see when to move forward with Phase 3. He said there will be 110 lots with 180 units upon completion.
“We’re in negotiations for a few deals on a few other buildings there as well, but our total build-out on that site will be about 140,000 square feet of commercial and retail space,” said MacLeod.
The Gray Group owns parcels of land around Atlantic Canada that it hasn’t started developing yet, including some for planned light industrial uses in Prince Edward Island.
The Gray Group is a family-run company that, in addition to its real estate ownership and activity, also owns and operates Island Drafting, H-Line Enterprises, Cornwall/Charlottetown KOA, Vision Auto & Tire, CanTrek Tire & Supply and Fox Meadow Golf Course.