Upper West launches in Westboro

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Amenities include an outdoor rooftop terrace with ample spots for quiet conversation. Rendering, Minto/Canderel.

When Minto decides to do something, it doesn’t mess around.

Ottawa’s biggest developer built its last condo, the 33-storey Metropole in Westboro, in 2004. Since then, it’s avoided the condo-building mania that’s gripped so many others, instead taking a back seat until it was certain the trend was a long-term one. Now it’s back in the game with two high-end projects: Upper West in trendy Westboro (you expected anything less?) and Minto@lansdowne in the soon-to-be-revitalized Lansdowne Park.

We’ll have to wait until mid-month for the Lansdowne launch, but Upper West — a gleaming 25-storey, 199-unit tower planned for Richmond Road with killer views like the Ottawa River to the north and the sunset to the west — launches publicly Saturday. It’s a joint development with Canderel and is targeting stringent LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) gold certification for sustainability.

A string of events led up to Saturday’s opener.

Two weeks ago, for example, Minto held evening information sessions at its Richmond Road sales centre. Visitors, pre-registered for the event and greeted at the entrance by an all-in-white mime, scanned floor plans (532 square feet and up), eyeballed price lists (starting at $249,900), strolled through the 661-square-foot Broadview model suite (granite countertops in kitchen and bathroom, engineered laminate floors, Energy Star for almost everything including bathroom fans, all of it standard), and chatted to Minto representatives (elegant in black with glittering white smiles).

That was followed by a day of condo sales to company employees, their families and friends.

The next day, a Sunday, was VIP day. Potential buyers, pre-registered, learned more about the project, with some making a deposit on a unit.

Business was slow Sunday morning but ratcheted up by mid-afternoon. The DJ, wine tasting and samples of sushi and other goodies from Westboro-area businesses didn’t exactly dissuade visitors, who totalled about 250 for the day.

“We were supposed to close at five, but it was so busy we were still there at 6:30,” Minto sales manager Hugo Lepore said the next day. Over the weekend, Minto sold 27 of the 100 units in the first release. “It was a pretty even split (of buyers), mostly younger single people and downsizes.”

VIP visitors included a gentleman who hoped to add to his portfolio of investment properties. Minto products tend to have good resale value, he said as we stood in the kitchen, where a couple of View-Masters on the island countertop (the island’s an option in this model) showed aerial photos of the river as it might be seen from an Upper West unit. The visitor gave a thumbs up to the model suite. “When you walk into your home, you want to like what you see,” he said.

However, he agreed that potential buyers seem to be doing more comparison shopping than they had during the feeding frenzy that was the typical Ottawa condo launch just two or three years ago. It wasn’t unusual then to see buyers camped out overnight to get first crack at a unit. The entire housing market has slowed since those halcyon days.

At Minto’s VIP launch, less than a dozen people waited patiently for the doors to open at 10 a.m. The launch of a project by another developer the previous day saw prospective buyers drifting casually toward the site shortly before the noon opening and taking their time in inspecting the model suite carefully before signing up — or not.

“There’s no question the pace of sales has slowed,” says Minto executive vice-president Paul Rookwood. “We may have to be more patient, but we will sell (Upper West).”

In planning that project, Minto considered including some smaller suites, he says. Those are very popular in Toronto, a major condo market for Minto. However, the company decided that buyers here, while gradually warming up to cosier condos, still prefer conventionally sized units.

“If you get too big a range,” says Rookwood, “people in the bigger units may not be so crazy to share (the building) with cheaper units.”

Another difference between the two cities is the buyer base, he says. In Toronto, marketing efforts more often target investors — people who buy pre-construction units and, once the building is up, either flip them at a profit or rent them.

“We’ve seen some developers there marketing to Hong Kong or Chinese investors. I don’t think you’d see that with Ottawa condo developers.”

Upper West

What: 25-storey condominium development by Minto and Canderel

Price: Units starting at $249,900 and 532 square feet.

Extras: Parking from $33,000; lockers $3,500; condo fees 42 cents per square foot per month

Sales centre: 400 Richmond Rd.

Hours: Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; weekends & holidays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Information: 613-788-2786 or minto.com

Connect with Patrick Langston |langston@xplornet.com