06 Sep A Lifetime of Solid Partnerships
Sam Herzog, the principal of Lifetime Developments, credits the company’s success over the past three decades to the solid partnership he forged many years ago with co-founder Mel Pearl.
“Mel and I were both independent, we didn’t need each other, but we teamed up and became better people,” Herzog recalls.
“That’s the secret; be good at everything you do and you’ll find your niche. But don’t depend on your partner; you need to be a whole person first, then come together and become a better person.”
Being well versed in the delicate art of partnerships has served Lifetime’s principals well over the years.
Since joining forces in the late 1980s, Herzog and Pearl have grown Concord-based Lifetime from a suburban house builder into one of the city’s top developer of condos, most of them joint ventures with other builders.
Lifetime’s array of downtown developments include The Four Seasons Private Residences, M5V, Victory Condos, Liberty Market Lofts, Indx Condos, Karma Condos, The Bond and The Yorkville.
There’s also the Bisha Hotel & Residences, the first of what Lifetime hopes will become a trendy made-in-Canada hotel brand.
Developing condo projects as joint ventures has been an effective strategy that’s enabled Lifetime to retain its founding entrepreneurial spirit. Partnering with other developers allows the company to stay lean and nimble while still being a part of a large number of downtown projects. Joint ventures also mean Lifetime can spread around the financial risk.
“We’re probably involved in the building of 4,000 to 5,000 condos right now,” says Pearl. “And we’ve managed to do this and not lose our (entrepreneurial) focus because of associations with other developers, and by maintaining a hands-on approach.”
Pearl and Herzog first met when the two were working as competitors in the lowrise construction industry.
“We were building in the same subdivision,” Pearl says. “And we just liked what we saw in each other.”
Herzog suggested to Pearl that they team up and before long Lifetime Homes was born.
The company evolved slowly in its early years, expanding its operations from building detached houses in the suburbs to also developing property for residential projects.
When it became apparent that greenbelt land restrictions would place serious constraints on future lowrise development, Pearl and Herzog deftly shifted their company’s focus to downtown condo development. “We decided that downtown Toronto was where we wanted to be,” says Pearl.
“We moved there before most (other developers) were coming downtown,” Herzog adds. “The market was just beginning to transition. And before you knew it, we were one of the biggest downtown developers.”
Lifetime’s most high-profile downtown project, Four Seasons — on which it has partnered with Menkes Developments — is slated to open in November, nearly 10 years after Lifetime first acquired the property.
Pearl hustled hard to acquire the Four Seasons’ property and pulled off a coup when he tracked down the site’s German owner and, after an exhaustive seven-month effort, was finally able to make a deal to buy it.
But Lifetime’s competitors were skeptical at first. “When we bought the land, every single developer in Toronto told us we overpaid, that we we’re going to go bankrupt,” Herzog remembers. “Today we’ve become geniuses because we had that foresight.”
The experience taught Lifetime plenty about building a hotel-condo and inspired the developer to try its luck at creating a brand all its own.
The result is Bisha, a 41-storey, $150-million hotel-condo at 56 Blue Jays Way that Lifetime is developing in partnership with Charles Khabouth’s INK Entertainment, Canada’s largest nightclub operator.
Bisha will have 30,000 square feet of amenity space, with two restaurants, two bars and a café. There will also be 332 condos and a pool on the roof. The top floor of the hotel is being designed by rocker Lenny Kravitz and will include a two-storey “Rock Star Suite” with an outdoor terrace.
Pearl has big plans for the made-in-Canada Bisha hotel-condo brand. “We would love it to be international,” he says. “We didn’t do it to be a one-off project.”
While Pearl and Herzog remain firmly at the helm of Lifetime, the founding fathers have been grooming the family company’s next generation to eventually take the reins.
Pearl’s son Michael is Lifetime’s vice president of construction; Herzog’s son-in-law Brian Brown is the company’s vice president.
In 2006, Pearl and Brown launched their own development arm, BLVD Developments; the firm’s first project was Victory Condos on King St. W., which was built in conjunction with Lifetime.
“We were given a chance,” says Michael Pearl. “They said, ‘Do you guys want to take an opportunity and try it on your own?’ And Victory Condos was that chance, and Brian and I jumped at it.”
BLVD builds boutique-style condos that cater to young urbanites who don’t want to live in a 500-unit highrise condo.
“Obviously we’ve got big shoes to fill, but that’s what’s so great about it,” Brown says of BLVD.
“We’ve got two people (Pearl and Herzog) with such a range of experience, that having them push us to do it on our own has been a great motivation and a great learning experience.”
The plan is for Pearl and Herzog to gradually transition the leadership of Lifetime to Brown and Michael over the next decade.
Pearl feels good about the next generation’s prospects, as long as they continue to heed his real estate wisdom.
“I’d like them to stick to the philosophy that Sam and I share: location, location, location,” he says. “Always focus on the real estate; that’s got to be the priority.
“That philosophy has served us well through all the ups and downs of the market.”