Commercial development is a key driver in any economy, essential for producing new projects and generating new wealth
In New Brunswick, select companies, agencies and major projects are driving commercial development, and in the process creating jobs and boosting the local economy — all of it much-needed in a time of slow growth.
Saint John, the province’s historic Port City, is proving to be a hub of commercial development, from real estate to massive energy projects.
Port Saint John, Eastern Canada’s largest port by volume, is one of New Brunswick’s major commercial selling points. The year-round deep-water port handles an average of 28 million tonnes of diverse cargo annually. The port is an undeniable gateway to global markets: it has connections to more than 300 ports around the world and is a major facilitator of trade. And Port Saint John is easily connected to central Canadian inland markets by rail and road.
“We are the avenue that an investor uses to get their products to markets around the world,” says Shannon Blanchard, the port’s manager of cargo development.
Blanchard explains that the Port Saint John team is often involved in discussions with potential commercial developers. The Port also partners with the province and municipal economic development agencies to identify strategies for attracting local and international development opportunities.
“We are a key element in the supply chain and logistics component of both local commercial development as well as direct foreign investment,” Blanchard concludes. “We work with the client to arrive at a customized solution to suit their needs. Collaboration brings these opportunities to fruition.”
Brian Irving believes his organization’s latest infrastructure project will add to the activity in Port Saint John waters, and boost the local economy. Irving is the general manager of Saint John Industrial Parks, a company that develops land and builds the infrastructure needed to support industrial tenants.
The company’s $7-million Spruce Lake Barge Facility Project includes a wide, heavy-haul road that connects manufacturers in the Spruce Lake Industrial Park to tidal waters, the ocean, and world markets. With a wharf capacity of 500 tonnes, it can handle the movement of oversized modules and industrial components, such as pressure vessels and pipe racks — items too large to be shipped by road or rail. This allows the modular fabricated pieces to be constructed in Saint John and shipped to mega-projects around the world, for clients in industries ranging from oil and gas to tidal and mining, among others.
Irving calls the Spruce Lake project a strategic investment and a key cog in the “southern New Brunswick value proposition.” He predicts it will help local industry boost the province’s exports and support job growth. “That’s the real wealth creator for your community — when you start exporting these very valuable modules to other jurisdictions.”
Enterprise Saint John is the regional economic development agency for the City of Saint John and its surrounding municipalities of Grand Bay-Westfield, Quispamsis, Rothesay and St. Martins. Led by CEO Steve Carson, the agency promotes the Saint John region to companies looking to set up shop in a new city. In 2016, Enterprise Saint John pursued 153 leads and organized 32 site visits to the city.
Brick Park, a cluster of businesses located in the uptown heritage district, has become a magnet for commercial and residential development. It’s home to more than 34 ICT companies, plus more than 100 other knowledge industry businesses.
“These businesses have co-located here because they understand the benefit of working alongside other innovative companies, and within walking distance from coffee shops, restaurants and the life of the urban core,” Carson explains.
They’re also saving money: according to Carson, it costs 12-18 per cent less to do business in the Saint John region than in other New Brunswick cities, and 30 per cent less than in other G7 countries. “Clients are impressed when they see the heritage office spaces available here, and learn how affordable they are, compared to other centres where brick and beam architecture comes at a premium,” Carson says.
Brick Park is clearly growing: since 2011, building permits in Saint John’s heritage district (including Brick Park) have totalled more than $12.5 million.
A good portion of the unique look and appeal of Saint John’s Brick Park can be credited to Commercial Properties Limited, an Atlantic Canadian property development and management company that specializes in premium office and commercial buildings.
Started with a single building, Commercial Properties has grown its holdings ten-fold since 2000. Today the company has more than one million square feet under management.
“We offer quality properties throughout New Brunswick,” says Paul Moore, Commercial Properties’ vice president and general manager. “We are small enough to be nimble, and large enough to bring innovative, sustainable design and operations to our clients.”
Commercial Properties’ most recognizable buildings include the Brunswick House and Mercantile Centre office towers in Saint John, and the Commerce Place tower in Moncton. The company’s Somerset Square in Saint John was the first private sector LEED Gold building in Atlantic Canada. The company is also well known for its beautifully restored heritage brick and beam style CenterBeam Place, Ordnance Place, and Red Rose buildings in Saint John.
The award-winning CenterBeam Place consists of an entire city block of 140-year-old buildings integrated into a single structure overlooking a courtyard in the very heart of uptown Saint John. “It’s the kind of interesting brick and beam space that is much sought after by IT and creative companies,” Moore explains. “There’s a fresh spirit of renewal in uptown Saint John that Commercial Properties helped launch with our significant investment in CenterBeam Place. Now we’re seeing more shops, restaurants and bars clustering in this area.”
Most recently, Commercial Properties built a new provincial liquor store in the uptown core, on a property that languished as a parking lot for decades. Though it’s a new building, it was carefully designed to blend in with the heritage style of the neighbourhood.
“We’re committed to New Brunswick. It’s our home and our base of operations. We will continue to make strategic investment decisions in the province and beyond to upgrade existing buildings or create new ones,” Moore says. “Commercial and retail property developments are highly visible symbols of growth. They boost consumer and business confidence and also serve as a catalyst for other growth.”
Among Saint John’s most important industrial facilities is Canaport LNG, a state-of-the-art liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving and regasification terminal. The first and only such facility in Canada, the terminal is capable of sending 1.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. Canaport LNG, a partnership between Repsol of Spain (the majority owner) and Irving Oil, employs approximately 90 full-time workers.
Currently, Canaport LNG operates as an important peak sharing facility, giving its customer the opportunity to sell natural gas during critical peak demand times, primarily winter months. “The terminal serves as a strategic energy asset for the Maritime energy supply chain and is one of the largest LNG storage facilities in the region,” says Kate Shannon, Canaport LNG’s communications and community relations manager, noting the facility’s 10 billion cubic feet of storage capacity.
Canaport LNG opened in 2009 and has since undergone several environmental and efficiency upgrades, totalling investment of US$50 million.
The result: Canaport LNG has significantly reduced its CO2 emissions while also benefiting New Brunswick businesses. For example, a $45-million compressor upgrade, completed in 2015, put $4.8 million into Saint John companies as well as approximately $12 million into labour and materials from New Brunswick businesses.
“Commercial development leads to additional jobs, but it is more than that — it is an investment into building our communities,” Shannon explains.
“Growing our communities is important because it means we have more people who stay here and raise their families here, in turn building more amenities and services. It’s more people spending their time and money here, which then develops further spin-off around the province, including additional social investment from local businesses.”
Shannon says more Canaport LNG projects and investments benefiting local companies are possible in the future. “We are always looking at potential opportunities to maximize the use of our terminal,” she says. “We are continuing to invest in making our terminal reliable and efficient.”