Building Value

Metro-Can Construction Ltd. is B.C.’s contractor of choice for exceptional construction services

Whether it’s a high-profile project of years past such as Olympic Village, or current jobs such as the Park Royal Village Expansion, Metro-Can Construction Ltd. has always brought more to the table than just comprehensive building skills.

The company also provides value-added services whenever possible, something more important than ever in today’s construction market. Despite the recession technically being over, markets are still tenuous. Developers find it challenging to fill buildings to capacity with buyers or tenants whether the facility is residential, commercial or mixed-use.

Therefore, Metro-Can president Don Voth and director of operations Carlos Rios are singularly focused on viewing proposed new buildings through the eyes of their developers. “Whatever the job is, we keep their objectives first and foremost in our minds and work towards achieving them,” he says. “We assess if the building is going to be a ‘winner.’ And if it isn’t, we help figure out with the developer what can be done to correct its shortcomings.”

Rios, along with director of pre-construction Derek Pilecki and chief estimator Marty Gallagher usually join a project’s development permit drawings process, which follows the initial schematics stage and precedes the development permit itself. “It’s vital we’re engaged during this middle stage, because it’s when you can really nail down costs and make meaningful changes to a building’s design,” says Voth. “It would be a nightmare to attempt this once the development permits are issued and pre-sales commence. It’s certainly happened before, but it’s something developers can’t afford these days.”

Far from causing antagonism between architects and builders, this approach helps ensure a smooth construction process and a finished product where maximum space is geared toward generating revenue. “If you’re a builder who’s been in business as long as we have, which is almost 50 years, there are always ways to improve design,” says Voth. “Sometimes the orientation of building components needs to be rearranged, or the basic mathematics of a room layout need to be revised in order to avoid spending dollars on non-revenue-producing areas.”

Even when Metro-Can can’t participate in the development permit drawings process—as was the case with Victoria’s recently completed Oak Bay Beach Hotel for Bison Properties Ltd.—it can still achieve certain efficiencies. “We presented some suggestions on the expenditure of cash allowances and wound up coming in slightly under budget at just under $50 million (for the total cost of the project), which we’re proud of,” says Rios. The new Oak Bay Beach Hotel consists of five-star, full-service luxury accommodation, private residences and the only commercial waterfront development on Victoria’s Golden Mile.

Not surprisingly, Metro-Can’s devotion to providing value-added services has made it the contractor of choice for many developers. The company is busy with a host of projects throughout Metro Vancouver, most of them scheduled for completion this year or next. In North Vancouver, Metro-Can is well underway on the Park Royal Village Expansion for Larco Investments Ltd., a massive undertaking that will result in the addition of 340,000 square feet of parking and commercial rental units, as well as street amenities including a vehicle bridge/overpass.
Also in North Vancouver, Metro-Can is in the midst of constructing Capstone, another Fairborne midrise residence. “Capstone is a landmark for us in that it’s our 71st medium/highrise project,” says Rios.

Voth adds, “We’re proud of our residential portfolio and enjoy this type of work. Despite what some critics think, no residential tower is alike, and there’s no cookie-cutter template we can fall back on. Every site is different and requires a different approach to construction and/or design.”

In Vancouver’s West End, Metro-Can crews are constructing Alexandra for Millennium Development Corp./Concord Pacific, a 20-storey highrise with a heritage facade that will meet LEED Gold standards. Further south in Richmond, Riverport Flats 5 is taking shape, a Legacy Park Lands Ltd. venture that represents the final phase of the riverfront development in Steveston. “Any development located on a waterfront or near the SkyTrain does very well,” says Voth. “Whenever we act as guarantors, that’s the type of project we gravitate towards.”

Metro-Can’s current roster of residential projects is capped by the newly completed Ultra for Weststone Properties in Surrey’s City Centre, a 35-storey mixed-use highrise with 362 units and 11 two-storey townhomes within walking distance of the SkyTrain and Surrey’s new City Hall.

Family-run Metro-Can has evolved significantly over the decades. Founded by Don Voth’s father Ben Voth in 1964, the company first focused on institutional work, and then became involved in real estate development. A one-time specialist in large hospital and school projects, Don Voth purchased the firm from his father in 1974. In 1985 Metro-Can deliberately downsized to a more personalized company focusing on value engineering and revenue enhancement. In 1988 Metro-Can’s headquarters relocated from its longtime home of Abbotsford to the more centrally located Guildford district of Surrey.

Metro-Can’s most recent evolution came in 2010, when the company sold a portion of its construction operation to JV Driver/IDL Projects Inc. This enabled Voth and Rios to win builds such as the Park Royal Village project. “JV Driver is building a national consortium and handling everything from industrial to civil and hydro work,” explains Voth. “Although we operate the same as always, our association with them enables us to access previously unavailable client networks and participate in other areas of construction.”

Voth emphasizes that while his company’s busy work schedule and long list of past projects are the result of carefully considered business strategies, Metro-Can’s success can also be attributed to the ability of the company to recruit and retain dedicated, talented personnel. The average experience per person at Metro-Can is about 26 years, and key people have been groomed (Rios included) via what Voth calls “relational leadership.” “It’s one thing for someone higher up to give another person a set of orders on an authoritative basis,” he says, “but it’s quite another to give orders on a relational basis and then explain the reasoning behind them. This encourages buy-in.”

It’s no secret that the construction industry overall is finding it tough to recruit new talent. Voth and Rios acknowledge that they too have had challenges as they fill the positions of retiring professionals. “We have at least seven or eight up-and-coming guys who are very promising,” says Rios. “We’re in a good place.”

As Metro-Can forges ahead with a bracing mixture of seasoned professionals and new blood, Voth looks forward to relinquishing more responsibilities in the future. “Carlos has become the daily operations person, enabling me to step back a bit and concentrate on securement and strategy in coming years,” he says. “Metro-Can is in good hands, and there will always be a demand for our value-added services.”