How Ryan Beedie is reshaping Vancouver (and what’s next)
Frances Bula, (VANCOUVER MAGAZINE) — In a low-slung building set on a nondescript industrial street beside Highway 1 in Burnaby, Ryan Beedie stands in front of a map that covers the entire wall of his company’s boardroom. He moves from one side to the other like an energetic teacher, pointing at one and then another of the orange rectangles scattered across the map. This is the billion-dollar Beedie empire, one that has crept in recent years into the heart of Vancouver, popping up in some surprising places.
Beedie knows the purchase price, the current value, the future of many of these pieces of land, reeling off the numbers in his words-tumbling-over-each-other way, the style of a guy whose IQ tested at 139 and whose school years were marked by hyperactivity. “‘Ryan can’t sit still, he talks too much.’ That’s what they used to say about me,” says Beedie, 47, back at the boardroom table. “I have attention-span issues.” That restlessness, however, has paid off. Beedie has grown the Beedie Development Group by almost 20 times since he started working for his father’s company in 1993.
In the last few years, he has moved it into ventures his father, Keith Beedie, wouldn’t have dreamed of. The Beedie Development Group, once an exclusively industrial operation, has entered the high-stakes world of condo building. The company made plans to develop a new Coquitlam neighbourhood of 8,000 people along the river and two towers near the new Evergreen line, also in Coquitlam. It’s in the middle of a massive project at Station Square in Burnaby. Beedie has talked about a potential redevelopment of the Kingsgate Mall site it’s leasing from the Vancouver school board, in the middle of Mount Pleasant, which is turning into a millennial-family world at warp speed. The company is also into its second year of negotiations over a condo tower in Chinatown, a historic neighbourhood fraught with peril for outsiders bearing plans for change.
That has provided some tough lessons, lessons that have made Beedie slow down and rethink. “This is new for us. Cities love us. We’re the biggest industrial developer. They treat us with such respect because we’re providing jobs and taxes. Here, we’ve had to pause, look at the lay of the land.” Proof that he’s also got his father’s cautiousness in him. That will affect what he does with key properties his company owns around the city.
The business that became Beedie Development Group (Beedie Industrial, Beedie Living, and Beedie Capital Partners) started 70 years ago, when Keith Beedie, after dropping out of school in Grade 11 and starting a woodworking business, built his first house in Marpole in 1946. Keith turned his operation into one of the biggest local players in industrial development by the time Ryan started working for the company at age 25.
But that didn’t come easily. Keith’s focus on his company had repercussions at home for Ryan, who has an unusual relationship with his father. “It’s not like he’s father of the year,” Ryan says, looking down at his day planner filled with pencilled notes. “I’m sort of the afterthought. His second wife wants to have a kid, okay, there you go. He’s a very good husband and overall a good father, but the business was his priority. We wouldn’t know what time he was getting home, 7, 7:30, 8. He kind of leaned over to me two or three years ago and said, ‘I didn’t really want more kids.’ And I knew that. Tell me something I don’t know. ‘But I’m glad I did,’ he said.”
When Ryan was in his early teens, interest rates shot up and Keith struggled to keep his company above water. Ryan scrambled to get his MBA in his early 20s because he could see he was going to be needed. “My dad at the time was 65. I was a little bit worried about his health.” He started working at the company shortly after. By 2001, when Ryan was 32 and his dad was 75, he became its president. But Keith continued to come into the office, as he does to this day, watching his son expand the company far beyond what it had been: as he bought and sold properties, as he created a wildly successful strata-style of industrial development, as he took the company into Alberta, as he upped the family’s donations to charity exponentially, as he grew into the tricky area of residential real estate four years ago.
Every major step has been discussed with his dad or been about his dad. When Ryan’s friend Tom Gaglardi wanted to buy the Vancouver Canucks, Ryan wasn’t so sure. But his dad, who was a huge Canucks fan, was all for it (after further investigation, so was Ryan). His dad resisted moving the office from its longtime Kingsway location to the newer building near Canada Way and Gilmore. After Ryan talked him into it, he made sure that Keith’s new office was refurbished to look exactly like the old one, down to the weird ceiling tiles, rug, and wood panelling.
One of the things Keith loves doing in that new office is watching, on his computer screen, the buildings go up at Station Square in Burnaby, a five-tower redevelopment that Ryan undertook with business partner Anthem Properties. That’s been perhaps the most successful of Beedie’s ventures.
The rest have been case studies of what can go awry in the hornet’s nest of development in this region. The massive Coquitlam project is being re-worked. “We put a pause on Fraser Mills because we weren’t sure exactly what we were doing there. The original design concept kind of assumed the SkyTrain would be coming down that way,” says Beedie. The provincial government—the Liberals whom he has always supported—decided on a different route. It became clear to the Beedie team that the high-rises they planned wouldn’t work without the line. Investors, who account for a significant portion of sales, want units near transit that are rentable. “We’re having to take a step back,” Beedie says. The Crown tower next to the new Evergreen line is going ahead, but Beedie was startled by the vehement public opposition. He was also taken aback by the fierce objections to the condo tower the group planned for Chinatown, which became the target of pent-up frustration over the rapid pace of change throughout the neighbourhood. He sounds cautious about taking on anything new. The Kingsgate Mall? “There’s a long way to go there. We have no interest as a company to go in and do something that everybody’s against.” If the opportunity is right, yes. A sign of the times: Beedie became one of the first developers in a long time who chose to put a commercial building, Mountain Equipment Co-op, on a valuable piece of close-to-downtown property recently.
Condos were an option on that piece of land at Quebec and Second. But Beedie decided instead to build for a company whose values he liked. As for future possibilities? If the price is right. Too many developers are chasing too few sites in this town right now, he says. He’s not going to get suckered into paying too much. He’ll be aggressive, not foolish. “It comes from me growing up seeing my dad in 1981,” he says. “Interest rates are 18 percent, and I can see in his eyes he’s afraid of losing his company. We’re not going to put ourselves in that position.”
“They treat us with such respect because we’re providing jobs and taxes.”