ray mao-compressed Photo by James Bombales

Toronto’s red-hot real estate market has long been attracting the attention of international developers. With nearly 40 years of experience in the construction industry, Chinese developer OPEARL is embarking on its first residential project in Canada.

SAIL Condominiums will be an 18-storey tower located at Victoria Park and Sheppard with an impressive selection of studios, one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom suites. Designed by Keith Loffler McAlpine Architects, the tower’s distinctive, sloping design will feature a six-storey podium that will house an abundance of social and recreational amenities.

To find out more about the project and the company’s plan for growth, BuzzBuzzHome sat down with Ray Mao, director of OPEARL.

BuzzBuzzHome: What made you decide to venture into the Canadian real estate market?

Ray Mao: The Canadian real estate market is a very strong and stabilized market. It’s been improving slowly every year, which makes it a very reasonable, safe market for investing.

We have been building in China for over 15 years and our company is family-owned. My grandfather started the business back in 1970. In the beginning we started out selling construction materials, such as sewer piping. Because of that, we are familiar with every step of the development process. We’ve started from the bottom. We know all the trades, all the construction companies, all the marketing agencies and how they contribute to a project from start to finish. In 2000, we became a real estate company — we’re now a developer as well as a material supplier.

BBH: What types of projects have you developed in China?

RM: We have built many different types of projects. Our residential projects in China have been much larger than this one. While SAIL is just one tower, in China we have built developments with 10 to 20 towers in one community. These projects vary in height as well, some are 18 or 20 storeys, while others are over 30.

We have experience with commercial projects as well. We built a shopping mall with around 70,000 square meters of retail space — there are supermarkets, shops and a hotel.

BBH: What drew you to Sheppard Avenue East? What potential do you see in the neighbourhood?

RM: We chose this area because of its proximity to the 401. Once the LRT is completed, I think it will bring huge change to Sheppard Avenue. Many more residential projects are likely to pop up and more people will be drawn to this community. There are numerous office buildings around here as well, so ideally people will be able to work and live in the same neighbourhood.

Sheppard Avenue is a lively street and it’s easy to go further north or into downtown from here. Buyers won’t have to pay downtown condo prices at SAIL, and yet it takes only 10 minutes or so on the DVP to get there. Along this corridor there are supermarkets, shopping malls, gas stations, restaurants — everything. It’s very convenient for daily life.

North York started to develop rapidly about five or six years ago, with lots of high-rises and easy access to the subway. I think you’ll see that happen in Scarborough tool. The east of Toronto has been slow to develop, but it’s getting there.

BBH: What was it like working with Keith Loffler McAlpine Architects? How did you come up with the idea for the sail design?

RM: The sail design of the condo was the idea of Keith Loffler McAlpine Architects. He drew inspiration from other world-class residential buildings near water. He’s a great guy and a very experienced architect.

sail exterior-compressed BBH: How has the project been received? Have there been a lot of registrants?

RM: The reaction to SAIL has been very positive. We have many registrants and we recently held a public grand opening on September 19th.

BBH: Any plans to build more projects in Toronto?

RM: If SAIL is successful, we would like to build more projects in this area in collaboration with another Chinese builder; we will purchase more land for another condominium. I’d also like to build something in downtown Toronto.

SAIL is a very suitable size for our first project in Canada. We’re new here and we didn’t want to jump into the market with a huge project. We wanted to test the local market and get familiar with the way things work. This will allow us to move on to the next step — to build bigger projects.

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