For a small, family owned company, Cameron Development Corp. consistently works with big names. Commercial titans such as Walmart, Best Buy, Sobeys and the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) are tenants in multiple Edmonton, Alberta, locations owned, developed and managed by the company. With only 22 employees, Cameron’s client list proves it’s not the quantity of workers, but the quality of their skills, that makes a successful business. Leading the team is founder and President Jerry Naqvi, who studied electrical engineering but spun off into commercial development and began Cameron Development Corp. in 1980. His son, Cameron Naqvi – for whom the company is named – is vice president of leasing and development and holds a bachelors’ of science degree in engineering and construction. Daughter Tina Naqvi, with a civil engineering degree and MBA, is executive vice president, while daughter and accountant Rose Naqvi and her husband operate Cameron Homes – a residential subsidiary begun in 2005.
Cameron Naqvi says the family’s various educational backgrounds are a benefit to the business. “Engineering, irrespective of the type of development, is a big part of this business, and the financial aspect obviously speaks for itself. Understanding these processes certainly has been an advantage of ours.”
Cameron looks for complementary expertise in its partners and contractors. Naqvi says the Edmonton area teems with strong, reliable contractors, but Cameron shortens its vendor list to those with commercial niches. Also, the company doesn’t look just at credentials, but at individuals within an organization.
“We want to deal with the best-quality groups and not just the company as a whole, but with the people in the organization,” Naqvi says. “It’s the individual that has the knowledge and the expertise. When we select engineers and architects, we take that into strong consideration when making our decisions.” And appropriately so, since building a strong team has been key to developing more than 8 million square feet of shopping centres. Today, the company is in various development stages for 10 projects ranging from 100,000 square feet to the 2.3-million-square-foot South Edmonton Common – which places it among Canada’s largest open-air shopping centres.
On more than 320 gross acres, South Edmonton Common accommodates more than 100 retailers and six anchor tenants as opposed to the usual three or four. Anchors include IKEA, Real Canadian Superstore, Walmart Super Center and a 16-screen Cineplex Odeon. Even Home Depot and Lowes Home Improvement Store saw fit to share the space. The project is nearing completion with 2.1 million square feet built out.
The sheer size of this project adds weight to the Cameron name, but the company creates big buzz with smaller projects, as well. The 1.1-million-square-foot Currents of Windermere shopping centre is nearly 70 percent built out and houses repeat tenants Walmart, Home Depot, London Drugs and Canadian Tire, as well as new tenant Cabela’s. The U.S.-based outdoor sports retailer converted existing stores after purchasing a Winnipeg-based company, but this is its first new construction in Canada.
Another standout aspect of the project is its urban village site plan. “Currents of Windermere is unique in the way it is not a traditional big-box center,” Naqvi says. “It has storefront retail, giving it the urban village lifestyle feel, which is a concept from the United States that we loved and introduced into the Currents of Windermere site.” The development team consulted with U.S. East Coast architects, developers and construction firms because of climate similarities. Currents of Windermere is designed as retail shops surrounding a central square with national big-box stores that are expected to draw in lots of shoppers.
Even smaller in size but just as big in notoriety is the Emerald Hills Urban Village. Cameron holds 11 acres of the 50-acre pilot project spearhead by the city of Sherwood Park, an Edmonton suburb, as well as Natural Resources Canada and University of British Columbia’s Design Centre for Sustainability.
“Sherwood Park is really pushing sustainable developments in their community,” Naqvi says. “There are separate developers each serving their own parcel, but we are all looking to ensure the entire 50-acre, mixed-use project is a sustainable neighborhood. Sherwood Park is the initial driver, but we all jumped on the bandwagon.”
The masterplan consists of retail, office space and residential components. Each developer is aiming for LEED certification. Cameron’s portion includes Sobey’s, Tim Hortons, RBC, Co-OP Gas, Subway and medical offices atop the retail portion. Construction began last year and tenants move in later this year.
Naqvi says coordinating with other developers is common in the greenfield scene. For Emerald Hills, the developers would meet two to three times a week prior to construction. “We’re always in areas where new development is happening,” he says. “So it’s important to work with adjacent developers. And then you get into specific projects like Emerald Hills, which is sustainable, and it’s even more important.”
As the company looks to the future, Naqvi says it will continue to develop sustainably. He maintains that many of its past projects nearly meet LEED standards though they were developed prior to its inception. Cameron also is looking to redevelop brownfield sites, which Naqvi notes is a way to move the company into new regions because the process involves less logistical bureaucracy. But no matter what the type of site, location or green rating, Naqvi says this small, family owned company hopes to continue to house the biggest names in retail.
“Because we’re a small, family company, we are so involved in each site,” he says. “When we do a lease with Walmart, or work on a deal with Home Depot or Best Buy, they know they are dealing with the owner of the company, and it adds a personal touch. They like dealing with someone who can make the decisions and make direct commitments on various aspects of a deal.”