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Vandyk Group’s Sunshine State Diversification Strategy

What compelled Toronto developer John Vandyk to buy The Seafood Shack, a waterfront bar and grill in America's oldest fishing village? Diversification, he says, pointing to new multifamily projects he's got on the go in Florida.

Vandyk Group’s Sunshine State Diversification Strategy

We snapped John at VANDYK group of companies’ HQ in Mississauga. The firm has 18 developments planned or under construction at the moment, most of them mixed-use condo projects, primarily in the GTA. VANDYK also has a lease-hold commercial division that builds over 1M SF a year for clients like RBC, Hatch and IBM. “Cradle to grave there isn’t anything I can’t do,” John tells us. But prospects are getting more limited in Ontario. "Institutional money really owns the business, the deal flow, so if you’re an independent like us, you’re always on the hunt for an opportunity.”

Vandyk Group’s Sunshine State Diversification Strategy

That opportunity was awaiting him on Florida’s Gulf Coast, where John—who'd long been “flirting” with a push south of the border—has launched several residential projects in Sarasota. Then a year ago he snapped up The Seafood Shack, a local institution on the Intracoastal Waterway in nearby Cortez. He bought the site for $4M and spent $1.5M bringing the 180-seat, 24k SF establishment—which comes with 6,000 SF of banquet facilities, a 68-slip marina and five acres of developable land—back to life (including adding Canadian beer to the menu for Snowbirds). “I turned this around in less than 60 days. And the lineups started coming again.”

Vandyk Group’s Sunshine State Diversification Strategy

Earlier this year VANDYK broke ground on its inaugural Florida project, ONE88 Residences (above), a five-storey condo overlooking Sarasota Bay with units in the $3M range that John says are “like the custom houses I started out building." (It's 50% sold.) Next up is Orange Club, 15 condos and nine townhomes in Sarasota's historic Burns Square District. The project (below) has a small retail component that'll include a decor studio for all VANDYK properties in Canada and the US. Another multifamily project is planned for a site VANDYK owns across from The Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota. And John's seeking opportunities farther afield. “We’re looking at anything between Tampa and Naples.”

Vandyk Group’s Sunshine State Diversification Strategy

VANDYK's focus has been on Florida of late, but the company’s still got plenty happening here in the GTA, with nearly 2,000 units in the pipeline. This includes The Craftsman (below), a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired 293-unit mid-rise condo complex on a 4.5-acre infill site in Mississauga’s Clarkson Village that John says is the company’s signature project. In Etobicoke, VANDYK is planning an extensive redevelopment of Stonegate Plaza, creating a mixed-use community with 500 residential units and a two-storey commercial building that will include a new home for the existing community health centre. And a development at Heartlake Road and Highway 410 in Brampton with over 700 homes is coming.

Vandyk Group’s Sunshine State Diversification Strategy

Commercial development has long been a significant part of VANDYK’s mix, and the company has seven lease-hold properties in its portfolio, including Wrigglesworth Plaza in Shelburne, ON, and West Park Plaza in Cobourg. All the while, John’s keeping one eye on Florida, particularly The Seafood Shack. It’s been a year since he bought the place, and while traffic and revenue are “much improved,” he's just getting warmed up. “I want to build a new shipwreck bar there, with a real ship in the bar.”