ELEGANCE MEETS ECONOMY
by: Michelle Santos
Reetu Gupta looks back fondly at her childhood memories of her father, Steve Gupta, bringing home colour palettes and fabric samples for her and her siblings to peruse as they watched television after school. The daily exercise wasn’t a simple pastime for the Gupta children; they were providing critical input on the design scheme of their father’s latest hotel project. Reetu Gupta didn’t realize it at the time, but the activity she looked forward to every evening was actually a component of the valuable—and lifelong—training she would receive from her father on hotel and real estate development.
Reetu & Steve GuptaShe could not have asked for a better teacher. Mr. Gupta came to Canada 45 years ago with $108 in his pocket and a vision to build beautiful properties that would provide impeccable service reminiscent of the five-star hotels he had admired as a child in his native India. Invested in his dream and unafraid of hard work, Mr. Gupta initially sold insurance door to door to make a living. In 1979, he finally made a humble foray into property ownership and development, purchasing a truck stop off Highway 401 in Port Hope, Ontario. Anticipating that proximity to a major highway would create demand, Mr. Gupta added restaurants and a hotel to the site. His foresight was 100 percent accurate. He had cemented his first real estate success.
Today, he is president and CEO of Greater Toronto–based Easton’s Group of Hotels and the company’s real estate arm, Gupta Group. His real estate portfolios include a hotel portfolio boasting 15 properties bearing the Marriott, Hilton and IHG brands in locations across Ontario and Quebec; a residential portfolio consisting of landmark buildings offering upscale living in the city core; and a recent, successful venture into office condos, a property class that is exponentially gaining market appeal.
At every step of Mr. Gupta’s ascent to success, his family was by his side, where they remain to this day. Reetu Gupta is now chief operating officer of Easton’s Group and Gupta Group.
“Hotels are in my blood,” says Ms. Gupta. “I’ve always enjoyed being and working in hotels. I remember staying at a Marriott in Orlando when I was four, when my dad took us with him for a hotel convention. The staff was so friendly, giving me comic books and crayons to entertain me. The people and the facility were just gorgeous.”
“I taught my children the importance of respect, reputation and humility… It might be an old-fashioned approach, but it’s a great way to do business.”
An affinity for hotels coupled with the unparalleled Indian hospitality coursing through the Guptas’ veins make for a dominant force in the industry that is only made stronger by an unbreakable family bond.
It all began with a patriarch who made it a point to involve his family in discussions, be it about personal issues or business matters. “Our opinions as his children always mattered,” explains Ms. Gupta. “To this day, we would discuss as a family—and we might have differing standpoints—but in the end, we come to an agreement.”
YPPIndeed, Mr. Gupta assents that while the business hires the industry’s best consultants to offer expert advice on its projects, “The family makes the final decision.”
The Gupta signature is evident in the family’s properties. Filling the gap between luxurious, five-star hotels and their all-too-basic counterparts, Gupta brand hotels occupy the upper-mixed-scale tier, offering the conveniences of a four-star facility with stellar service.
“We did away with five-star luxuries, such as a piano bar or rooftop pool, and instead married white-glove service with midrange facilities,” explains Mr. Gupta.
The Guptas’ version of midrange is by all accounts still top-tier. The family’s discerning taste and cognizance of value guarantee that their guests are treated to high-quality furnishings and amenities without the exorbitant price tag.
The same philosophy applies to their game-changing residential properties, The Rosedale on Bloor and Dundas Square Gardens, both of which offer the perfect combination of optimized living spaces and state-of-the-art amenities.
“Today’s young professionals don’t want to spend on huge condos,” says Mr. Gupta. “They want smaller, practical spaces to eat and sleep, while the rest of the building provides the extras they want: a rooftop garden, bar, pool, fitness centre, a business centre like what we offer at The Rosedale—even a gourmet kitchen or theatre like what we have at Dundas Square Gardens.”
In fact, residents of The Rosedale have full access to premier hotel amenities—at no extra cost—as the first nine floors of the building make up The Canopy, a new Hilton lifestyle hotel.
Again, Mr. Gupta’s projection was right on the money. The blended hotel-residential model was exactly what his target market wanted, and they proved it by purchasing 900 units at Dundas Square Gardens in one month, making Gupta Group the fastest-selling condo developer in the Greater Toronto area in 2014.
TRENDSETTING REAL ESTATE
With a penchant for identifying and building on industry trends, and having conquered the hotel and residential sectors, the Guptas have entered new, niche territory: office condos.
BoardroomMr. Gupta knew there was a demand from businesses to own their office space. He knew because he was one of them. “After having paid $20 million over 30 years to rent my office space, I wanted to build my own,” he explains. “In Toronto, nobody built office condos. Only long-term leases were available.”
He saw the opportunity to meet this demand and sought to offer companies the benefits of owning office space, including, he notes, “freedom and flexibility to build your space the way you want it, investing towards your own asset, stable monthly payments versus rising rents and peace of mind that you won’t be removed from your space.”
Mr. Gupta’s vision gave rise to Yonge Park Plaza (YPP), a mixed-use, four-star hotel and office building at Toronto’s 4050 Yonge Street. Designed to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold standards, the property features 250,000 square feet of premium executive space and top-of-the-line facilities—from fully furnished boardrooms equipped with the latest audio-visual equipment to modern common spaces to bicycle storage. Owners at YPP also have the option, via membership, to use the connecting Hilton Hotel’s guest rooms, pool and fitness facility, illustrating Mr. Gupta’s trademark approach of combining practical necessities with welcome add-ons.
Asked what excites him the most about YPP, the real estate mogul is quick to point to its prime address at Yonge and York Mills. Located 15 minutes to popular amenities, near major highways and multiple transit options with direct subway access, the property, says Mr. Gupta, is a “once-in-a-lifetime ownership opportunity.”
The Guptas not only homed in on the strategic location of YPP, but they also foresaw the lure of such a premier property within the affluent neighbourhood of Yonge and York Mills. “We looked at who’s living, working and playing in the area, and anticipated what and who could move into it in the future,” explains Ms. Gupta. “There were no retail, restaurant or hotel options in the immediate vicinity. This gap made it clear that the YPP concept would work.”
The lobby level of YPP offers more than 20,000 square feet of restaurants and retail shops, catering to tenants and customers alike. The void has officially been filled.
Given their sterling track record of bringing iconic, profitable properties to market, the Guptas have no shortage of partners and vendors clamouring to work with the family. Just as they carefully choose the design and furnishings for their properties, they mindfully select professionals to hire and teams to involve in their projects. “We look for the right fit,” Mr. Gupta says. “Yes, someone’s résumé speaks for itself, but we bring on people who love their work and not just the monetary rewards that come with it. Being in the hospitality industry, we choose to work with happy people who can, in turn, make others happy. Most of all, we value those who recognize that in our business, family comes first, and want to be part of our extended family.”
The Guptas have no shortage of projects, either. In less than five years, Gupta Group plans to complete two significant developments totaling no less than three million square feet. The company’s “build one at a time” approach is an assurance that the team dedicates ample time, effort and resources to delivering only best-in-class properties.
The Guptas have made an indelible mark, not just on the neighbourhoods and cities in which their properties stand, but on the hotel and real estate industries themselves. While other magnates measure their success based on dollars and prestige, for Mr. Gupta, his children—and their sound values and achievements—are his legacy.
“My family have their feet firmly planted on the ground,” he says proudly. “I taught my children the importance of respect, reputation and humility. They are brilliant in all they have accomplished in their education and work, and remain true to these values. It might be an old-fashioned approach, but it’s a great way to do business. It’s this philosophy that makes people say, ‘Gupta Group is a great company to work with.’”