Road to Success: The Daniels Corporation
It’s an expansive parcel of land that became known as one of Toronto’s poorest and most run-down neighbourhoods, but in 2006, demolition began to revitalize Regent Park, and The Daniels Corporation was selected as Toronto Community Housing’s development partner to revitalize 53 of the 69-acre community. “It’s a strong and powerful community that was poorly planned from the outset and got put in a very difficult position,” explains Jake Cohen, VP of Implementation at Daniels. “Our job in this revitalization project is to build a vibrant community that creates a unique sense of place for everyone.”
The Daniels Corporation is a full-service, cradle-to-grave development company that builds new homes ranging from high-rise condominiums and townhomes, purpose-built rental communities and mature living communities, to commercial office and retail spaces – with a deeply rooted social conscience. “The underlying goal of each and every community we undertake is to enact social change and impact people’s lives for the better,” says Jake. And although Daniels employs about 400 people, they think of themselves as a small- to mid-size family business with local roots in the GTHA, and no intentions of expanding beyond that, at this time. “Knowing the communities in which we work is essential to what we do. We don’t want to insert ourselves where we don’t really understand the pressure points.”
Indeed, for over 13 years, the Daniels team has been working closely with Toronto Community Housing and the Regent Park community to create a vision for the neighbourhood and bring it to life. Previously, Regent Park was solely residential – no commercial or recreational facilities existed within the area. The low-rise residential buildings consisted of rent-geared-to-income (RGI) units which had fallen into disrepair, and drug trafficking and violent crime ran rampant. “We’ve helped to turn that around through this revitalization project,” explains Jake. “Now, Regent Park is connected to the rest of the city and a mixed income, mixed use community is thriving and underway.”
One of the main features of the revitalization is blending new, energy-efficient RGI units with market units together in the same neighbourhood, along with new commercial and recreational amenities including an aquatic centre, grocery store, bank, community centre, restaurant, and cultural facility. “The size and scope of the revitalization has really allowed us to become part of the community,” says Jake. “We aren’t just erecting buildings. We’re effecting change and making an impact on the lives of residents by hiring locally, procuring art from within the community, and making use of neighbourhood talent.”
And when Jake refers to “talent,” he is speaking in the truest sense of the word. “There is a big philanthropic component to our role in this community,” he says. In fact, Jake’s father Mitchell Cohen, President of Daniels, writes and composes songs for a spirited musical that is now in its 7th year. It offers a unique look at Regent Park as the neighborhood goes through the most ambitious urban transformation in North America. The musical is called The Journey – a Living History of the Regent Park Revitalization” and is primarily inspired by real life stories of Regent Park residents and performed by artists and young people from within the community. The Journey is a significant fundraiser that supports remarkable youth arts programming, operations, and capital improvements at Daniels Spectrum, the community’s 60,000 square foot cultural hub.
“Unfortunately, the artistic talent skipped a generation in my family,” laughs Jake, who notes that sports are more his forte. He’s always played hockey and football and was on his varsity baseball team at McGill where he studied English Literature and Political Science, with a Minor in Economics. During summer breaks, he worked as a site labourer on the low-rise construction team at Daniels but was uncertain of his path upon graduation. “I really wanted to get my feet wet and learn as much as I could about the business,” he says, “so I joined the Implementation Department full-time, once I graduated.” Jake’s role touched on all elements of the company, and he got involved in sales and marketing, as well as the construction and development teams. “I discovered that I have a passion for the social side of development,” he explains, “and my focus has shifted from implementation to people and culture. The grass roots and organic culture at Daniels is key to our success, and I am determined not to lose that.”
Oftentimes, a shift in culture goes hand-in-hand with company growth, but as Jake notes, “there is a loud consensus at Daniels that our current size is a good size. We don’t feel the need to grow just for the sake of getting bigger. We can afford to be more selective with the projects we take on, and the people we hire.”
So, what’s on the horizon for Daniels? “We’re getting involved in more housing developments for senior citizens, by virtue of the aging population,” explains Jake. “We’ve created a ‘Universal Accessibility Program’ that goes above and beyond building code by offering wider hallways and mobility devices in barrier-free condo units.” Daniels has also added student housing programs into their construction portfolio and has become a long-term, purpose-built rental developer, as well, in partnership with institutional companies.
“We’re not the type of company that just rests on its laurels,” says Jake. In fact, Jake and the 9 other VPs and 3 senior partners/original founders recently participated in a corporate retreat where they reflected on what made them who they are today, and what they need to do in order to continue to be successful into the future. “We’ve built something that we are all so proud of, and we want to hold true to our core values going forward.”
To learn more about The Daniels Corporation, check them out online at www.danielshomes.ca.