Published On: Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Harris Overcomes Obstacles to Create Award-Winning Legasea

Harris Overcomes Obstacles to Create Award-Winning Legasea
Drip Coffee has made its home in Legasea’s commercial space

NANAIMO - Legasea is a success story that was over a decade in the making.

Located in Nanaimo’s Departure Bay area, the luxury mixed-use project took home two major awards at the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board’s (VIREB) 12th annual Commercial Building Awards Gala, held at the Florence Filberg Centre in Courtenay.

The project, which features six townhouses and houses Drip Coffee, took home the Award of Excellence (first place) in the Mixed Use category, as well as the Judges Choice Award, the top prize of the evening.

“I’m absolutely surprised and delighted, and humbled by this recognition” says developer Tony Harris. “We have poured a lot of energy and passion into making sure that we created a product in Departure Bay that would both enhance the neighbourhood and create something that the whole city could enjoy.

“We did that with the creation of Drip and a common commercial space. The fact that it is so busy there is a testament to how much our people were wanting something like that.”

The six luxury townhomes feature light wells, thermal chimney stairways, elevators, ocean-view roof decks, and oversized tandem garage/sports storage. The coffee shop features a beach log structure and colored beach glass window accents. The project included an outdoor plaza with a permeable surface and backlit concrete.

Legasea was built on a floating concrete slab to respect the site’s archeological significance. Built by Westmark Construction and designed by Raymond de Beeld, the project included a green roof, custom planters, a rain garden, and an energy-efficient mechanical system with a heat pump and fan coil systems.

“Because Departure Bay has been underdeveloped for so long, I felt it was important to set a new standard that will inform future projects happening down there,” Harris continues. “I imagine Departure Bay becoming a combination of Cadboro Bay in Victoria and White Rock. It’s central in our community with the best beach in town, a seawall, and parks. I was really proud to have this project recognized and delighted to be a part of the development community in Central Vancouver Island.”

Harris was born and raised in Nanaimo, and has spent a lot of time in the Departure Bay area. In his early 20s, he became interested in real estate development and identified this site as a key opportunity.

“It backs onto a park, is fronted onto a beach, and had multi-family zoning designation, making it ideal for mixed-use,” he says.

Harris befriended the original home owner, and in 2007, after many months of discussion, convinced him to sell the home, going so far as helping the previous owner move into his new residence.

Shortly after the design process commenced, the recession hit and plans were put on hold. Harris moved into the home with some friends, sitting on the property until the proper market conditions arrived.

“In 2017, we finally decided to go ahead with the project,” he says. “We created a new design, cooperating with some zoning changes and based on what we felt people would enjoy. The project require a lot of additional engineering, so we needed to create a luxury product at a high price point to justify all the costs. In the end, our timing was good, and the project was a success.”

The completion of the project required close collaboration between Harris, Chris Lundy of Westmark Construction, Raymond de Beeld, and Herold Engineering, as well as the cooperation of the neighbourhood, city and Snuneymuxw First Nation.

“The most impressive features of this project are the parts that you don’t see,” says Harris. “Departure Bay has been the ancient village site of the Snuneymuxw people for thousands of years, and there’s so much history and archeology going on under the surface. For that reason, we had to be careful to not disturb the area beneath the site.”

This was accomplished through the use of a floating, reinforced concrete slab. This eliminated the need for to excavate the site, allowing the builders to be sensitive to the history hidden beneath. In addition, the project featured a number of green and luxury features to create a desirable finished product.

So far, a number of the units have sold (with the help of realtor Cody Dreger), and the commercial space has been leased. As of the end of April, only one unit remains on the market.

Discussing his first foray into the development world, Harris comments, “It has required a steep self-education process and mentorship from various contractors and builder friends. It’s a very complex business, but I love business and learning about business.

“I enjoy development because it’s a nexus of creativity and business - you’re creating something from nothing. I really enjoyed working with Westmark, and Chris Lundy was fantastic. Raymond de Beeld has been with me on a number of projects, and I value the working relationship we have. I also enjoyed the input of my friend Gur Minhas, who has always been my sounding board with respect to real estate and development. Cody Dreger and his team helped guide the price point and the product, and I’m really proud of the Scott and Jason, the guys who started Drip Coffee. They’ve done a fabulous job creating that brand.”

Harris remarks that the project would not have been possible without the support of so many consultants and contractors.

After the success of his first project, he is looking into future endeavors in mixed-use and multi-family development.

“I have a few irons in the first right now,” he says. “I’d like to hit a lower price point with my next project. I see the pressures we’re experiencing in the community, and see an opportunity to create a product for young families and people who want a hope that’s more affordable than a typical, stand-alone family home. This is just the beginning for me, and I’m looking forward to more projects as we move forward.”