By Gary Lamphier, Edmonton Journal October 24, 2009
At 26, Raj Dhunna is a friendly, fresh-faced young MBA student at the U of A.
While many of his classmates will soon be out hunting for jobs, however, Dhunna's future is already mapped out. When he's not hitting the books or off on an international study tour--his MBA class just returned from Shanghai --Dhunna has other obligations.
As project manager for Regency Developments -- a local real estate development firm headed by his father, Rakesh--Dhunna oversees not one, but three major downtown condo projects.
The most advanced of the three, Quest, is a 22-storey, 116-unit tower at the southwest corner of 104th Avenue and 105th Street. It's due to be completed in April. Located across the street from MacEwan's main campus, Quest resembles the chic upscale high-rises found in Vancouver's Yaletown or False Creek neighbourhoods.
Its stylish suites, with features like hardwood floors and granite counter-tops, are priced from under $300,000 to $1 million-plus, and range in size from 605 square feet to more than 1,800 square feet.
"We're approaching 50-per-cent sold," says Dhunna, in an hour-long chat at Quest's busy retail sales centre, two blocks west of the building site.
"Thanks to the visual appeal of the building, the colour schemes and the overall quality, a lot of people love what they see. Sales have picked up a lot, and we're signing two or three contracts a week now."
Buyers are a mixed bunch, including young professionals, empty nesters who are scaling down, and seniors who want to live downtown.
"I think, historically, the Edmonton real estate market was a bit undervalued, and during the boom prices were probably a little inflated. But I think we've come back to a point of equilibrium," Dhunna says.
"People realize this is the new market value for Edmonton. ... A lot of factors are starting to come together, and there's a lot of potential over the next 10 years to become one of those metropolises everyone talks about."
If so, that would be great news for Regency's other key projects:RK East, a three-tower, 935-unit highrise condo complex at the east end of Jasper Avenue, and The Pearl, a proposed 35-storey condo on the south side of Jasper at 120th Street.
RK East, situated on the former Levi Strauss factory site, recently won council approval, and detailed planning is underway. Construction is expected to start in 2010.
"The development permits will take a few months to sort out, so with that project being approved it allows us to focus on the business side of things," Dhunna says.
"The project will be done in stages and phases. There's three towers--29, 32 and 35 storeys each--with underground parking. And there's over 100,000 square feet of retail. So we're hoping this development can help revitalize that area of town, and help it grow into what the west side of downtown has become."
RK East would face directly onto Jasper, overlooking the river valley. The neighbourhood, now dominated by aging low-rise apartment blocks, is in dire need of a makeover. If RK East gets rolling, it could finally inject some new life into a long-neglected area of the city.
RK East isn't the only project underway on Jasper Avenue East, either. Another Edmonton developer recently won approval for a separate 29-storey condo project nearby, dubbed The Tango. Since both projects are within a short walk of the Stadium LRT station, as well as the river valley trail system, they're perfectly suited to today's active, urban lifestyle. Ideally, the new towers might also help spur development of the Quarters, which remains stuck in the mud.
"The project (RK East) will have wider sidewalks, and there will be(interior) access through a courtyard. We've also tried to make sure the view corridors are (preserved) to view the river valley, so the buildings minimize the impact on other buildings. The river valley is Edmonton's crown jewel, and definitely that's what our project is oriented to."
Although Regency had preliminary talks with the city about establishing a promenade opposite RK East on the south side of Jasper Avenue--similar to Victoria Promenade, which overlooks the river valley west of downtown--the talks didn't go anywhere.
That's a shame, given the renewed focus on preserving and enhancing public access to river valley views. With a bit of creativity, the city could dramatically improve an overlooked stretch of the city's main drag.
As for The Pearl--the company's third major condo project, just west of the Illuminada towers on Jasper Avenue West--Regency expects to make its pitch to city council next week. Due to its height, the proposed 35-storey tower is likely to face some opposition.
"There are four low-rise buildings on that site now. The tower will probably include some bigger units, and some commercial on the main floor," he says.
"If you're trying to attract professionals to live in the city or even Edmontonians themselves, the river valley is our crown jewel. People should be taking advantage of that, and the quality of life it brings. So that's what these projects do."
Dhunna credits his parents for his strong work ethic. His father has been building custom homes and small townhouse and condo projects for nearly 20 years, through a company called VIP Homes. He founded Regency in 2008. His parents also own a jewelry store in Mill Woods--one that was robbed just a few weeks ago.
"Through hard work they were able to get into the real estate industry, and my dad starting building houses in the early ' 90s.So it's all kind of just been built up through hard work, dedication and the support of other family members and friends."
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