Don Forsgren: Home makerIntracorp president Don Forsgren sees growing value in developing projects around transit hubs in Metro Vancouver
Don Forsgren has heard pundits speculate that Vancouver home prices will drop by as much as 40% during the next five years – but he's not having any of it.
The Intracorp Canada president recently committed to buying two units in his company's MC2 development near southwest Marine Drive and Cambie Street. Another 18 units in that project have sold to insiders while the remaining 425 condominiums will be made available October 27 to the 6,500 people who have registered to be eligible buyers.
The purchases are the fifth and sixth properties that Forsgren owns and plans to rent.
"Vancouver has a good base level of demand from immigration and population growth," he told Business in Vancouver. "That's not going to change over the long term, so we're quite bullish about the prospects of the market from a stability point of view."
That bullish sentiment is clear from the spate of Metro Vancouver housing projects that Intracorp has in the works, many of them near transit hubs, including:
•the 343-unit MetroPlace near Metrotown, which is under construction and has eight units remaining;
•the 290-unit Silver development near Metrotown, which has 72 units remaining and will be under construction next year;
•the 62-unit Versatile project near Lonsdale Quay, where 11 units remain; and
•the 104-unit Orizon project on East Third Avenue in North Vancouver, similarly close to the SeaBus terminal, which went on sale a few weeks ago and has already closed 24 sales.
The 550-home River Park Place project near the Richmond Oval rounds out the company's Metro Vancouver projects with more than 200 homes in the project's first phase set to go on sale in early 2013. Intracorp's strategy is to partner with others in each project – a tactic that enables it to do more projects and spread risk.
"We've typically been building about 500 or so homes each year in Vancouver and about 200 in Toronto," Forsgren said. "Our target is to do about 1,000 homes each year in Vancouver and about 500 in Toronto. We're on track to do that in 2012, 2013 and 2014."
Forsgren oversees Toronto developments from Intracorp's headquarters on Burrard Street in the Park Place building.
The biggest project in Intracorp's history is the 699-home, 60-storey tower at the corner of Yonge and Queen streets in Toronto. It has a one-third stake in the project, alongside MOD Developments and Tricon Capital.
The project went to market in March, and 540 homes have been sold. Construction is set to start early next year.
Porte Development Corp. president David Porte, who sits with Forsgren on the board of the Urban Development Institute (UDI), has a good insight into how Forsgren works.
"Entrepreneurs are really good at starting things, but we're not always good finishers," he said.
"Don's a finisher. He gets it done. He's committed to seeing things through and making them happen."
Forsgren has been on the UDI board for nine years, including the past four in executive roles. He also served one year in the position of president – a role that has since been renamed "chair" following the retirement of outgoing executive director Maureen Enser and the appointment of Anne McMullin as a full-time president and CEO. Other UDI board members, such as Cressey Development Group vice-president Hani Lammam, similarly heaped praise on Forsgren for his work ethic and his ability to devote a substantial amount of time to being the head of the industry's lobby group while heading a large development company.
Despite this hard work, as fellow UDI board member and Brook Pooni Associates Inc. principal Gary Pooni told BIV, "he has his priorities straight."
Pooni remembers being at a soccer practice with his son and seeing Forsgren in another playing field, running around and playing with one of his kids.
Born in Calgary, 46-year-old Forsgren came to Vancouver to study at the University of British Columbia in the mid-1980s. He graduated in 1989 with a degree in commerce and urban land.
"I decided that I really enjoyed the West Coast lifestyle," he said. "Being in real estate, it also seemed like a good place to practise that field."
He spent four years working as a land acquisition analyst at Polygon Homes before joining Intrawest Corp. as a development manager in 1994. Joe Houssain had founded Intrawest in the 1970s as a real estate development company. It then bought Blackcomb Mountain in 1986 and went public in 1986.
Investors were skeptical of Intrawest's business model of being both a resort operator and an urban residential real estate developer. So Houssain and a private consortium bought the residential real estate division of Intrawest soon after Forsgren arrived. They called the new entity Intracorp.
Forsgren was promoted to senior vice-president in charge of B.C. in 2000; he became president of the company's Canadian division in 2011.
Married with two children, he plans to have more time to ski and mountain bike now that he's no longer president of the UDI – an experience that provided him with plenty of opportunity to discuss major real estate issues with decision makers in both provincial and civic governments.
One of Forsgren's professional ambitions is to have Vancouver incorporate density in a way that provides a transition from highrises downtown to single-family homes in the rest of the city.
He believes that when city planners develop community plans for areas such as Grandview- Woodland, as is happening now, it should tell the community how much extra density is expected within the next few decades.
"You could say, 'Over the next 20 years, this area should be expected to absorb 3,000 new homes and create X square feet of commercial space," he said. "Then the discussion with the community isn't whether this would happen but how this best fits within their community."