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Sophie's Landing - Builder Architect Magazine - Eric Kerzner

Written by Michael McKay - Builder Architect
Tuesday, 01 June 2010 00:00

ERIC KERZNER GRADUATED with a civil engineering master's degree (cum Jaude) in 1983. and hit the ground funning. Without experience or capital, Kerzner drew from his vision and creativity to develop a hotel in the west end of Toronto, which opened just one year after his graduation. He was able to put together financing far this hotel, and he designed and built it himself. The hotel opened in 1984. He also created his own hotel brand (Signature Inns) under which he went on to build seven hotels around Toronto during the 1980s. He designed each hotel and hired a management company to run them after opening. "We reserved rights to this brand name [Signature Inn] in Canada, and we were unaware that there was a company in the U.S. developing hotels with the same name," says Kerzner. "We met to discuss our options." Facing a potential lawsuit, Kerzner ultimately sold his seven hotels to the U.S. company and never looked back.

In 1989, Kerzner purchased land for $3 million to build the Radisson Suites Hotel Toronto Airport, a $20 million, 16-storey, all-suite hotel. He assembled a joint venture with a $3 million equity partner. He arranged $14 million of construction financing, and put his land into the deal free and dear. Unfortunately, the hotel market collapsed in late 1989,just before he broke ground. His equity partner pulled out. Through sheer determination, a touch of creativity and some very difficult negotiations, Kerzner managed to build the 16-storey hotel for $17 million.

When asked how he managed that, Kerzner replies, "I did whatever I had to do. I found ways to shave $3 million from my costs. I worked from the job site every day. I hired no site super. I negotiated very hard with my trades. I used fly form construction and poured two floors per week and shortened the construction schedule from 14 months to nine. I hired no general manager [GM] or hotel management company and did all the pre-opening work myself. I flew to New Orleans for two weeks to train as a [GM] and went on to open the hotel as GM, a position which I held for two years. I hired a strong sales and marketing team, and the hotel filled to 100% occupancy on opening day." Kerzner hit a home run with the Radisson Suite Hotel. The hotel hit 100% market penetration in under six months and went on to win Radisson's Presidents Award within its first year of operations, a first for Radisson. It became one of, if not the most, profitable hotel on the Toronto airport strip.

Throughout the 1980s, Kerzner was also designing and building custom homes. He hired an in-house design team, and Kerzner personally oversaw the design of every home he built. He also personally designed the hotels and resort that he built. By 1990, he had earned himself a strong reputation in design of hotels, resorts and custom homes. In 1993, he sold the Radisson Suites Hotel Toronto Airport to focus on new developments and merged his custom home division (Carleton Homes) with his hotel and resort division (Signature Inns), and Signature Carleton Inc. was formed.

Signature Carleton Inc. went on to become renowned for quality design and construction of some of the finest hotels, resorts and high-end custom homes in Canada.

During the 1990s, Signature Carleton designed and built over 20 custom homes valued between $1 million and $5 million. It also built more than 20 hotels and resorts across Canada and the United States. The firm designed the Canadian prototype for Days Inn Canada and the Comfort Inn & Suites for Choice Hotels. Signature Carleton Inc. joined forces with RBC and Choice Hotels and traveled across Canada to build a base of new franchisees. Kerzner went on to design and build those hotels as well.

In the 1990s, Kerzner was called to rescue a distressed hotel development project in Tallahassee, FL. He was successful in reviving that project and went on to revive several other distressed properties. His U.S. clients were grateful and hired Kerzner to design, build, furnish and open their hotel development portfolios, which included hotels and resorts along the eastern seaboard of the United States, including Florida. Signature Carleton Inc. opened an office in Weston, FL, to manage its U.S.-based hotel development work.

In 1995, Kerzner designed and built a 27-storey Resort Condo Hotel in North Miami Beach. That property included very high-end restaurants and a full-service spa, for which Kerzner received three design awards. Although Kerzner had experience building under several hotel brands, most of his hospitality work was done under various Hilton brand names.

In 1995, Kerzner was approached by Intrawest to develop a lifestyle resort community of custom homes to be situated within the heart of Intrawest's redevelopment of Sun Peaks Resort, in British Columbia.

Kerzner designed and built the highly prestigious "Cabins at Sun Peaks Resort," an award-winning lifestyle community at the base of Sun Peaks Ski Resort, adjacent to a golf course. Purchasers in the Cabins saw their values double in live years, and Kerzner had discovered his new niche.

When asked about lifestyle communities, Kerzner responds, "I love to develop lifestyle communities. They allow me to combine my hotel, resort and custom home experience, and there are no limits to what I can design for these communities."

In 2002, Kerzner decided to take Signature Carleton Inc. in a new direction. His theory: there would be a growing demand for lifestyle communities in the exploding baby boomer cohort. Kerzner believed that he could design a product that the boomers could use as a four-season cottage and ultimately retire into. He envisioned these recreational resort communities with quality in-house amenities located in recreational destination locations. So, aiming directly at the baby boomer market, he created a new brand, Sophie's Landing, with plans to expand the brand across Canada and the United States.

Named after his youngest daughter, the Sophie's Landing brand was further relined. Kerzner decided that these communities should consist of detached custom homes within their resort environment. Kerzner felt that "the boomers want a quality detached home they can customize to their own needs and taste. This will be the last home they will ever build, and they won't mind spending to get what they want."

The concept behind Sophie's Landing was to offer a very high-end custom designed residential unit within a four-season recreational resort environment, with in-house resort style amenities located close to other recreational amenities all for the purpose of living a quality lifestyle. Kerzner understood that to succeed, he would need to offer both a quality lifestyle and a quality home. He created a Cost -+ 20% customization program so it would be affordable for his purchasers to change and upgrade the units. This program was key to his future success.

In 2003, while building two Days Inns, one in Barrie and another at Casino Rama (Orillia), Kerzner found a 12-acre site ideal for his irst Sophie's Landing project. named Sophie's Landing Lakeside Club (Orillia).

The site had two challenges: it was abutting an environmentally wetland and nsh habitat, and it was abutting a major highway. To resolve the first issue, Kerzner designed a nature trail winding through trees along the waterfront. These trees create resting ground for migrating birds and shade for the nsh. By providing this, Kerzner was able to get permission to clear the site for his new development.

To overcome highway noise, Kerzner designed an S'-high acoustic fence, 2.25" thick, resting on top of a 4' berm.

Sophie's Landing Lakeside Club (Orillia) is a high-end gated waterfront resort community located in a protected bay on the north shores of Lake Simcoe, just west of "The Narrows," where Lake Simcoe meets Lake Couchiching in the Trent Severn Waterway System. Located at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac, the location has excellent access from four directions, and is 10 minutes away from skiing, golfing, mountain biking, Casino Rama, shopping, restaurants, downtown Orillia and much more. Orillia is an ideal location for his brand and hosts a variety of festivals throughout the summer months.

Sophie's Landing Lakeside Club (OrUlia) has a very prestigious gated entrance. Visitors can communicate with homeowners from the gates via the resident's TV and phone systems, which are connected to the gate operating system. The project caters to baby boomers ages 40 to 60, mostly from the Greater Toronto area. They will use their home at Sophie's Landing Lakeside Club (Orillia) as a four-season cottage, with plans to retire there in the future. Some will live there full time or use as a summer home. All his purchasers share a common desire to live a high-quality lifestyle within a maintenance-free and social resort setting.

Kathleen Timko, who purchased a unit in Sophie's Landing Lakeside Club (Orillia) Phase 2, told us. "When we were checking the place out, people would invite us into their homes to show off what Kerzner had designed just for them, These purchasers provided us with glowing testimonials of Kerzner's commitment to quality and to custom design each home, and they all took advantage of his Cost + 20% formula because it made it affordable for them to expand their lofts, fInish their basements, etc. After we purchased, with Kerzner's help, we lengthened our home and added a glassed in Muskoka room overlooking the lake. It's absolutely beautiful, and we could not be happier." Kathleen and her family currently use their property as a weekend retreat but plan to be there for the whole summer.

Sophie's Landing Lakeside Club (Orillia) is being developed in two phases. Phase 1 (49 units) is sold out and built out. Phase 2 (35 units) is 85% sold out and 60% built out. They have five lots left to sell, all premium because Kerzner saved his best for last. This is his final release. He is currently offering a $33,000 free upgrade promotion (for a limited time). They are also including the harmonized sales tax for homes purchased before July 1, 2010. "Each of the five remaining lots has unique opportunities," says Kerzner. Many have water views, and most have full walk-out basements.

Sophie's Landing Lakeside Club (Orillia) has the ambience of a French Country resort community. Every home is custom designed with Kerzner's Cost + 20% Customization Program, and he guarantees there will be no two homes alike. "Custom homes within a gated community rise 30% higher than their surrounding market." says Kerzner. Sophie's Landing has received two Urban Design Awards to date and was recently rated Ontario's NO.1 Lifestyle Community by Active Adult magazine. It is the only gated waterfront community in Ontario.
In order to keep maintenance costs low, Sophie's Landing Lakeside Club (Orillia) is structured as a common elements condominium. The homes and lots are freehold ownership. The waterfront, amenities, entry gates and interior roadways are condominium ownership. Condo fees are only SI25/month, which maintains all the common elements and amenities. Slips in the private marina are optional and rented at a rate of approximately $60/foot. They also offer complete service for your boat, including off-site winter storage, shrink wrap and in/out service for each boat.

There are no other fees, hidden or otherwise, at Sophie's Landing Lakeside Club (Orillia). Purchasers enjoy a first·class resort community for only $125/month. "This has given us a tremendous advantage, because most of our competition offer pure condo ownership with condo fees over $500/month," adds Kerzner.

All units are detached bungalows with optional lofts, full basements, attached garage and private drive. The architecture is very dramatic, with roof lines up to 24:12 in pitch. All units are built to high-end custom construction standards. There are seven base models, each available in Muskoka or French Country styles. but Kerzner uses his customization program to personally design a fully custom home for each and every purchaser. "It feels like a real village, not a subdivision," says Jerry Jones, one of Kerzner's satisfied purchasers. Jones is not alone. Kerzner's approach to customization has created a very house-proud group of purchasers. They are always available to provide Kerzner with glowing testimonials. In fact, Kerzner staffs his sales centre with Sophie's Landing Lakeside Club (Orillia) purchasers, not real estate agents. "They are genuine; they've done their own homework; they provide potential buyers with complete and honest information; and they are not pushy. Our buyers appreciate that," says Kerzner.

Amenities include a private marina with a floating gazebo, salt water pool, fitness and spa. three-level waterfront clubhouse with espresso lounge, billiards room, business centre, theater, putting green, roof terrace, catering kitchen and much more.

Units range from S369,900 to $549,900. Sizes range from 1,000 square feet to over 4.000 square feet. Prices include goods and services tax, rear deck and a full host of quality finishes including fireplaces, stone facades. vaulted ceilings, kitchen islands, hardwood flooring, granite counters and more. "We offer the best value, and we have a very unique product, which you just cannot find anywhere else in Ontario," says Louisa Burke, a Phase 1 resident who sells for Kerzner. "We are selling lifestyle here. The custom homes are a bonus. It's the lifestyle that people are buying."

For more information on Sophie's Landing, visit www.sophieslanding.ca.