Peoplefirst Developments tackling housing affordability in Calgary

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This city has been blessed by and benefited from many people who have immigrated here with a desire to improve their standard of living in a country known for its peaceful ways.

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They tend to be hard workers — a good example is Maxim Olshevsky. He came to Calgary with his parents from Ukraine when he was 13, and none of the family spoke English. Yet he now owns two successful companies that keep more than 100 staff and contractors employed.

Naturally, he is concerned about the war in Ukraine and is working to help as best he can, but his greatest worry is the fact that his aged grandmother lives in the eastern part of the country and cannot be persuaded to leave.

Olshevsky needed to learn a new language to get him through high school, while as a 16-year-old he got his first job as a construction labourer. He says his first trade was laying hardwood floors but he soon moved on to installing kitchens and tackling any kind of home renovations.

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By the time he reached 18 he was doing contract work on his own, and started his own framing company with crews of up to 40. Unsatisfied with not being able to control production and be involved in the end product, he founded another company that manufactured modular trailers for oil and gas company camps.

Olshevsky sold that company in 2014 and used his experience to launch Astra Group with a real estate investment arm that buys and repurposes buildings, while his construction company carries out the work.

COVID-19 caused many business problems but the young entrepreneur was proudly able to keep all of his staff working by purchasing buildings in the Beltline and renovating them. At one of them — the first two floors of 638 11th Avenue S.W. — he has transformed the second floor into a co-working space offering 70 individual offices for rent to small businesses, above the retail at street level. The corner unit that wraps around 6th Street is being converted into a spa that will also take over part of the basement.

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The newest and largest project for Olshevsky is the transformation by his Peoplefirst Developments of the former SNC Lavalin building at 909 5th Avenue S.W. It was purchased earlier this year through Graham Daniel of Colliers and the upper floors are to be converted into affordable housing in the core.

Thanks to the city’s incentives to convert office towers into residential units and the support of Thom Mahler, the city’s director of downtown strategies, Olshevsky says he is able to forge ahead to provide downtown housing, and the interior of the 10-storey building has already been gutted.

Manu Chugh Architect is responsible for the overall redesign, which includes replacing the exterior envelope — by setting back the units, each will have a balcony.

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Retail will remain at street level and the second floor will house another of Olshevsky’s co-working businesses to provide spaces for 60 operators.

The interiors of the residential units needing kitchens, bathrooms and living areas are being designed by the Peoplefirst internal team — all larger-sized two and three-bedroom suites for use by families.

Olshevsky and his team are working hard to welcome residents by the end of summer 2023, at below-market rents.

Notes:

If you are wondering how WestJet managed to park its fleet when it reduced flights from 800 per day to 40 at the height of the pandemic, and then what decisions had to be made to get its vast team back working, the answers will be given at the next meeting of the Ireland-Alberta Trade Association. Returning to the Skies is the topic to be discussed by WestJet executive vice-president and chief commercial officer John Weatherill at the association’s breakfast on May 26 at the Calgary Petroleum Club. And the airline will celebrate the relaunch of its direct flights to Dublin by offering a pair of tickets for a round trip to the capital of the Republic of Ireland.

David Parker appears regularly in the Herald. Read his columns online at calgaryherald.com/business. He can be reached at 403-830-4622 or by email at [email protected]

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