Saskatoon’s Golden Mile??? (8th Street Retail)

I was born and raised in Saskatoon. Like some of you, I remember the dreaded traffic circle at what is now the Circle Drive and 8th Street overpass. You would pull up to the circle, grip the wheel, and hope and pray as you entered the loop.

For decades, 8th Street was the “Street of Dreams” of Saskatoon real estate. It was home to classics like the Holiday House Motel, Duffy’s Theater, and El Rancho. These historic businesses slowly moved out of the limelight as rising stars like Superstore and other national brands moved in to backfill the sites. Some staples remain, like the McDonalds at Louise and 8th, the window-service-only A&W and probably the most iconic, the Granary and Fuddruckers.

But what does the future hold for Saskatoon’s Golden Mile? As the city expands and shopping patterns change, can 8th Street maintain its top billing on the marquee?

Many of the shopping centres along the street were constructed in the 1980s. As years have passed, some of these developments are starting to look their age.

The growth of new areas of the city at an exponential rate along with changing traffic patterns means that 8th Street is bound to slowly experience a decrease in traffic. As well, these new residential communities are planned to include a multitude of services like grocery stores, pharmacies, and places to dine that are all closer to home for residents. Landlords in these areas are achieving rents in the range of $30-45 net for new construction – lease rates that until recently were only recorded on 8th Street.

If owners of 8th Street real estate expect to continue to achieve current rental rates, they will need to update, renovate, and reassess their shopping centres. Removing antiquated signage, updating exteriors, and having cohesive tenant mixes will all be driving forces to get consumers on the lots.

A prime example is the retail site at the corner of 8th and Cumberland, where once sat an aging Safeway. The site was demolished and rebuilt to accommodate a new Save-On-Foods, Urban Cellars, Scotiabank and a number of other CRU tenants. This rebuild allowed the site to achieve better site lines, parking layout, and rents for the owner.

Is 8th Street’s time in the spotlight over?

Probably not. But like other classics, it may be time for a reboot with some fresh faces. A little rouge on the cheeks never hurt anyone.

Has technology made bricks and mortar obsolete?

We have all heard about how Amazon has affected retailers and their physical stores (bricks and mortar). I like it just as much as you do, ordering my goods from the couch. Our lives have been enhanced/disrupted in every way since the advent of the internet. Retail was tested, retail adapted.

Now, it’s the office market’s turn. One of my mentors in commercial leasing said the best way to sell is face-to-face; failing that, next best is dialing for dollars. Well, why not dial face-to-face? Zoom and Microsoft Teams have become part of my work life. Never, in all my real estate career, have I had more conference calls via one of these video chat services than in the past year. Our office used to have weekly sales meetings with 30 agents all in the same boardroom, but now this is a Teams call. I had the service all along as part of my Microsoft software but never saw the necessity. Now it’s hard to imagine NOT using it.

I deal with companies that are still not physically in the office and will not be until late 2021 to ensure as little covid impact as possible. They are still in business, still working. So on the outside, one may ask, do we need physical space? Can we imagine a world where we all work from home and all our goods are delivered to the door? It is easy to get there, but that is not the case. Just go to Costco and see the line out the door.

I remember the reaction from the office world at the start of the pandemic. Alright, we can do this! People excelled, keeping their minds and bodies sharp, working from home as we knew we were in it for the long haul. Lately the tune has changed. We need human interaction. I need to focus on my work call without stepping on a Lego or telling my kid “give me five minutes!” My three year old even learned the phrase, on her imaginary phone, “I need to take this call.”

Overall it begged many questions to be asked by companies taking up office space. Do we need less space? Employees can work part time from home. No one needs a permanent desk. Could we provide hoteling/hot desking? We can still be efficient with Zoom calls. What happens to our corporate culture? Everything from how offices are laid out to how a company functions was brought into question. I did not envy any company that had a lease come due and had to make those decisions now for the next 5-10 years. Maybe it will just go back to what it was pre-pandemic? Doubtful.

So what are we learning as we navigate the speed of technology? We are social beings. We want to personally interact with people in the office, not just work virtually. We need to touch, taste, and feel retail goods, as much as I like convenience. Tech will always be changing our lives, but it will be a tool to enhance our lives and give us another option. I do not think it will replace physical real estate. But it will change the way real estate is used, likely for the better.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

For years, over various lunches and happy hours, my friends have asked me what I’d do if I didn’t work in commercial real estate. My honest answer is: I don’t know. I genuinely love my job and have never considered another option.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a career I sat around dreaming about as a kid.

Most people would say I was likely to follow in the footsteps of my parents and siblings and end up as a doctor. But this is the career that found me, and I couldn’t be happier with it.

My favourite thing about commercial real estate is working with people! There is no better energy boost than the thrill I get from helping someone turn their dream into reality by transforming an idea into a brick and mortar location. Helping a client find the perfect spot, being at the opening of their business, supporting them and watching them thrive are all great rewards at the end of the day.

I also love that no two days are the same. My career is never monotonous or boring. There is no “one deal” in commercial real estate, and no deal is exactly like another. Whether it’s the negotiation process, finding a solution to obstacles, or even the personalities I get to work with each day, my job is always unique.

Sure there’s a process to my work. I’m still reading and writing offers and reviewing documents, but I can say that in over 20 years, not a week has gone by where I didn’t learn something new. Sometimes the lesson is a new idea of how to get a transaction over the finish line, other times it’s a hard lesson learned on how to do better the next time a situation arises.

Taking a leap of faith and getting my commercial real estate license was the best decision I ever made. I count myself lucky to have found the right crew of like-minded misfits to guide and teach me along the way.

This has been a very satisfying and dynamic long-term career choice.

As the business world keeps evolving, so does commercial real estate. I am excited about what’s to come! I’m grateful to be a part of the changing landscape of commercial real estate and to have the opportunity to keep learning and helping my clients thrive and grow their businesses.

Watching dreams being fulfilled is a dream job.

What do you need to know about buying commercial land?

Commercial land: what should you know? Most important is zoning. Zoning is any city’s method of regulating what is developed in each area. This can drastically affect value due to restrictions and requirements. Why do downtown parcels of land generally sell for more per square foot? The answer is density. The lifeblood of any city is its core. Generally the highest density and least restricted zoning will be in the downtown core. For instance, Saskatoon’s core allows a 76m (250 ft) max building height with  no parking requirement for an office building. Practically, though, a developer needs to supply parking to appease tenants. Basically the more building you can fit on a parcel of land, the more you can pay for it as you can keep going vertical. Market drivers will dictate how high due to demand. Zoning will also lay out the permitted, discretionary, and prohibited uses for the type of businesses allowed in each zone.

One certainty you can expect is taxes. Knowing the taxes of other buildings in the area will provide an idea of what your taxes will be once you build.  There are incentives for some development a city would like to encourage. For instance, Saskatoon has a vacant lot and adaptive reuse incentive: a five-year tax abatement is available for new office construction. Ideally, the City wants to see more people living and working downtown in order to have a vibrant core and take advantage of existing infrastructure.

Architectural controls, set backs, and minimum standards also need to be reviewed. What you can build, how it looks, and where on the land it is situated will all impact how a site is developed. A site we all know well in Saskatoon, River Landing, had specific development standards set by the City. In an effort to avoid an eye-sore, the City wanted to create a destination and, to the developers’ credit, they exceeded those standards.

For any city, it is important to understand the nuances of how zoning affects what can be developed on the land. Having the right commercial broker who understands this in the market can be key to making sure you are buying the right commercial piece of land to suit your investment or business goals.

Sales: A noble profession

A profitable business enterprise relies upon the successful sale of a product and/or service. How that transaction takes place is changing in many corporations. There are instances where it’s becoming increasingly easier to complete the necessary research, shop for the most favorable price and terms, and make the purchase on-line.

There will however always be a place in complex transactions for a professional salesperson.

Am I the right one for the assignment?

As I pointed out in an earlier blog post, there are instances where the client will be better served by engaging someone else.

They may be in a position with minimal coaching to complete the task on their own.

The skilled salesperson knows it is the quality of the questions that are asked which result in smart solutions.

Smart solutions can sometimes include referral to another professional who is in a better position to solve the client’s needs.

How can I add value to completion of a client’s goal?

If I am unable to add value far beyond the cost of my fee, I will not be successful in building long term client relationships.

I need to do much more than present the same information to every client.

My career satisfaction comes from the different creative strategies I am able to offer as we progress through the transaction process.

Advanced salesmanship often involves crafting successful solutions that track a different path from what the client could see.

What is my unique selling proposition?

The odds are that a potential customer will have made contact with a few different salespeople prior to connecting with me.

What sets me apart from the rest? What am I and my company doing to demonstrate we’re distinct?

I speak about a couple of ICR’s unique selling propositions in these past blog posts, My Conflict of Interest and  A “No Door” Policy.

There will always be a place for the salesperson who embraces change and has a passion for his or her industry.

That salesperson will find that customers become repeat clients and those repeat clients become old friends!