It’s difficult to discuss Winnipeg’s recent commercial real estate boom without mentioning Shindico, the city’s largest player in the sector.
Despite flying under the radar of Canada’s commercial real market for nearly 40 years, it has grown into the leading commercial development, asset management and brokerage firm in the Manitoba capital.
Yet, much like the city’s commercial real estate market itself, the company has begun to garner national attention in recent years.
“Winnipeg is on the radar screen of many developers in Canada, so it’s a lot more competitive,” says Shindico’s CEO and president Sandy Shindleman.
After decades of lacklustre performance, data from IPD, a Chicago-based real estate market research firm, show Winnipeg’s market has experienced double-digit percentage growth in the last few years.
Welcome turn of events
The increased market competition has actually been a welcome turn of events for Shindico, which provides services for firms looking to invest in the city.
“The outside developers have brought with them bigger rent aspirations, which has helped others grow their organic rental rates, and that’s allowed us to continue growing — notwithstanding the sharp rise in construction costs.”
Since Shindleman founded the company at age 18 in 1975, Shindico has found a way to expand its business through good times and bad.
In its first few years, the company consisted mainly of Shindleman and his brother, Robert, and they found early success helping retailers.
“The retail sector had been neglected for many years in Winnipeg with no one really specializing in it,” he says. “The building deals we did back then were anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000 feet.”
Over the years, Shindico has evolved into a full spectrum provider of realty services for major retailers.
“Now we have projects in the pipeline up to one million square feet,” he says. “Most recently, we’ve completed several neighbourhood shopping centres with department and food store anchors in the 300,000- to 400,000-square-foot range.”
$1 billion in assets under management
Today, Shindico employs more than 80 and has about $1 billion in assets under management with another $1 billion in projects in the pipeline. Its clients are a “who’s-who” of major Canadian retailers: Tim Hortons, Home Depot, Walmart and Sobeys, to name a few.
“At one time, we were responsible for more than two per cent of the property taxes paid in Winnipeg,” he says, adding that number has likely increased.
The company is growing beyond Manitoba’s borders as well with assets in Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan, the U.S. and Europe.
Shindleman, a respected expert on commercial real estate, is also an in-demand speaker at conferences around the world.
Over the last several months, however, Shindico has also been at the centre of controversy after it was alleged it had unfairly used close ties to Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz to win a deal to construct four fire and paramedic stations, a contract worth about $15 million.
Critics further allege one of the stations, built on land owned by Shindico, involved a secret land swap deal in which the company received three city-owned properties as compensation.
Council eventually nixed the swap deal, and Shindico and the city have yet to reach an agreement on compensation for the land owned by the firm.
Shindleman is adamant the company has done nothing wrong, and that those making the allegations have ignored the facts.
“Nothing was ever secret”
“No lands ever were exchanged or could be exchanged without the approval of council; nothing was ever secret,” he said.
Despite everything Shindico did being above board, he adds the company has still been a target of unfair attacks by individuals “with a political axe to grind.”
As a result, Shindleman says he has been forced to pursue legal action, including a libel suit against a local blogger.
“It is very troubling for us that someone would say something that is not true,” he says, adding a recent independent auditor’s report commissioned by the city exonerated the company of criminal wrongdoing.
An Ernst & Young forensic audit released last year did find that no legal wrongdoing had occurred in brokering the deal, though it did find the city’s administration, specifically its former CAO, had mishandled the process.
Recent troubles aside, Shindico remains heavily invested in Winnipeg with several major projects in development, among them the old Winnipeg Stadium site that will feature a number of high-profile clients including Target.
Still, the firm is aggressively diversifying its business outside Winnipeg in part because of its recent difficulties, he says.
Yet, as Shindico expands into other markets, Shindleman says the company will never stray from the sound business practices he learned from his parents who ran a corner store in Portage la Prairie, about 75 kilometres west of Winnipeg.
“I have basically stuck to our family mission statement of succeeding by helping others succeed,” he says.
“I have always felt confident that if my only goal was to ensure someone else’s success, I would be pulled along into the draft and I would succeed – and we did.”