By Bill Spurr | The Chronicle Herald
Even for a billion-dollar project, the first rule of real estate still applies.
“A European client needs to get off the airplane and get to the location in 30 or 40 minutes. You start driving two hours, three hours … very hard to sell,” said Don Marr, principal of Terra Firma Development Corporation.
Marr and his brother Brad, company president, are originally from Fredericton, and in the 1980s moved to Europe, where they’ve been doing real-estate projects ever since.
They’ve come to Nova Scotia to build the sprawling Forest Lakes development in Ardoise, Hants County, which will include, among other amenities, a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course.
“About seven or eight years ago, we saw what was happening in Europe and the States with real-estate projects, so we started looking farther afield for projects. We started to look over here, did some test marketing, got a fabulous response from our international markets and decided to do a resort community because there’s no other resort community, really, in Nova Scotia or in the Maritimes,” Marr said.
“People that come from Europe, they want to have the great outdoors of Canada. It needs to be in a place where there’s fresh air, beautiful trees, wildlife.”
Both the Marr brothers are involved in the most minute details of the development, from gravel screening to carpet-colour selection.
The one question they dance around is whether Nicklaus himself will be on site while the course is being built.
“We’ll see. That’s the secret,” Don Marr said, although the twinkle in his eye might have given it away.
The Golden Bear is being represented in Ardoise by designer Jerame Miller, who is making increasingly frequent trips to Nova Scotia from Nicklaus Design headquarters in Palm Beach, Fla. He has already spent several years on the project, fitting a golf course onto land with wetlands and environmentally sensitive areas.
“We had to adjust the routing to stay out of some wetlands,” Miller said. “We’re now finalizing some holes and starting the earth moving on others.”
Miller said construction regulations are different in Canada than in the United States or Dubai, other places where he’s built courses.
But he thinks as many as 60 people could be employed in the construction. He’s trying to come up with a design that will please resort golfers, serious golfers and golf architecture critics.
“The topography is perfect; it’s not too severe and it’s not too flat. There’s a lot of natural features out here already. We’re going to leave the quirks out here. I don’t want it to look overshaped, like we came in and blew up the world. If someone comes out and says we didn’t do much out here, that’s a compliment. Even if we did do a lot, we want it to look like we didn’t,” said Miller.
“I’ll probably do a little of the shaping. I’ll get on the bulldozer. When I’ve worked with Jack directly on his signature courses, he says: ‘I’m going to bring you in to put my lipstick on.’ So I’m actually going to do that on this project, as well. This course is long, and you’ll be able to hold an event here, a good event.”
Miller said Nicklaus is not especially hands on with the Forest Lakes design, but “he’s a presence,” and in keeping with his philosophy, greens will not be huge.
Terra Firma bought more than 10 parcels of land, totalling 2,500 acres, and most of that is already under a development agreement. Less than 35 per cent of the land at Forest Lakes will be sold to homeowners, with the rest for recreational use. It’s just outside HRM, which means lower taxes.
The company has gone after the European market first, and has “significant deposits” from several hundred customers, usually for more than 50 per cent of the purchase price.
Recently, three building lots sold for $500,000 each. But Marr says, overall, building lots are cheaper than at Brunello Estates or in Bedford West, which the brothers consider their competition for local buyers and which they will pursue next.
“It would be, time-wise, about the same (commute) as from Glen Arbour,” Marr said. “We’re a little farther out, but it’s an easier drive.”
The company is also in negotiations with the province on the construction of a Highway 101 interchange, with Terra Firma paying up to half the cost. That interchange is expected to be completed by the summer of 2017.
The development will be salt-free, and instead of wells, many houses will use rainwater harvesting and purification systems to provide water.
“The retail sale value of the project, if it was all built, all sold, is about $1 billion,” said Marr.