Areas of development in St. Albert include Oakmont and Erin Ridge.
Areas of Development in St. Albert (Start Dates):
- Oakmont (1980s)
- Erin Ridge (1990s)
- Erin Ridge North (2000s)
- Easton at Erin Ridge (2000s)
- Summit Centre (1992), Summit Plaza (2006)
- Erin Ridge North (residential)
- Erin Ridge Pointe (commercial)
- Urban Village (mixed use)
- Big Brothers Big Sisters
- Servus Credit Union Place Aquatic Centre
- St. Albert Farmers’ Market
- St. Albert Rotary Music Festival
- Various golf tournaments, sports teams, and tournaments over the years
Business has changed considerably since Landrex, a local real estate development company, sold its first acre in 1972.
“It was a lot of handshakes, less paper, no computers, less paper, no computers — I repeat that. It was nothing unusual to just go down to a restaurant or some place and do a deal. Like today, you’d have documentation and dates. [Then] it was pretty casual,” said Garry Wetsch, an employee of Landrex and long-time acquaintance of Larry Andrews, company creator.
Landrex is celebrating 50 years, although an exact date for when the company officially started is unknown.
The company began sometime in 1972 by Larry Andrews, a lawyer turned land developer.
Andrews was out of the country and unavailable for an interview.
The company currently has 17 employees. Landrex has developed thousands of residential lots and multi-family units and over one million square feet of commercial property, according to company documents.
In Alberta, the company has done business in Beaumont, Ponoka, Villeneuve, Sherwood Park, Edmonton, Stony Plain, Spruce Grove, St. Albert, Fort Saskatchewan, Morinville, and Gibbons.
Wetsch has been with the company since 2010. Wetsch did legal work for nine of those years, but in response to the number on his birth certificate, he said, he has started to slow down and works on special projects now.
“I like to say that I’m in charge of chaos, or I create chaos, and then I have people solve it,” Wetsch said.
Wetsch met Andrews on the first day of law school.
“That’s approximately 55 years that we’ve known each other, and the movie will come out someday, but we will have to leave the country first. No, I’ve seen the evolution of Larry and the company the first day it started,” Wetsch said.
Kate Lumley, Andrews’s daughter, has been with the company for two-and-a-half years. She is the commercial development and leasing manager.
Lumley said Andrews was initially in real estate law.
“And he realized that, ‘why are these guys making so much more money than I am?’” Lumley laughed. “I don’t know if you should write that — but.”
Wetsch piped up that by nature of all the professions, legal is rewarding.
“But it’s not a stepping stone to wealth. I mean, you have a good life … he saw an opportunity to go out and get them,” said Wetsch.
Wetsch said Andrews started with a couple of subdivisions on his own before the company took off.
Company documentation shows Andrews was articling by day and would drive around looking for land deals at night. He found a quarter section in Sherwood Park and scrounged up enough money for the deposit.
He took his very first flight to Vancouver to meet the seller and buy the land for $2,100 per acre. He was then able to sell the land for $2,500 per acre when he got home.
Wetsch said Andrew started off by doing things hands-on.
“I would say he probably knows more about land development and community development than anybody,” Wetsch said.
During the 1980s there was a terrible recession, said Wetsch. Interest rates were around 24 to 25 per cent and the company didn’t grow, but Andrews did manage to do a couple of deals.
It was sometime in the 1980s the company developed Oakmont. Erin Ridge was developed in the 1990s and the Summit Centre, which housed the initial St. Albert Landrex headquarters, was developed in 1992.
Wetsch said the land came first and then they decided to move the office to St. Albert, which had been located in Edmonton up until that point.
“I think that probably is as simple as that,” he said.
Wetsch said he always thought the name Landrex came from “Larry Andrews with an x.”
“Then one day, it means king of land. Rex [means] king in Latin,” he said.
Sophie Baran, the president of Landrex, has been with the company for four-and-a-half years. She said Landrex has grown and shrunk many times over the years: in the 1980s, in 2008 when everything crashed, and again during COVID.
Baran said it is tenacity that keeps the company going. The company has also adapted to changing times since it started 50 years ago.
“Andrews used to say that in the ‘70s, you would throw a quarter over your shoulder in Alberta. Whatever it hit, you bought it and he was like that’s pretty much how he built his land bank today, is that whatever it hit, you bought it and you just went for it,” she said.
Baran said you can’t throw a quarter over your shoulder anymore. Everything is more sophisticated.
“We are usually negotiating with people who really know what their land value is not just today, but what it could be in the future.
“You’ve got to be a bit more business savvy, a bit less like go to the bar and have a drink and negotiate the deal over scotch, and [a bit] more sit in the boardroom and have your lawyers present,” she said.
Wetsch said the business has shifted in the last 50 years. Today, the business is more conservative in its dealings.
“It’s more difficult to deal with regulatory matters. Banks are tougher to deal with because they’re run by Toronto, who doesn’t understand Alberta — to be candid. I think the purpose is still to take and turn it into a nice community. But there’s lots of third parties that influence that process,” he said.
Landrex has been shifting into more commercial development since about 2013. Wetsch said that move is by choice.
“If there’s a slowdown in housing then you can rely on your commercial,” said Wetsch.
Wetsch said one of the great projects to impact St. Albert was the Costco, which opened October 24, 2013. Costco brought in a lot of commerce to the city, said Wetsch.
“At one time Costco, I think 30 to 40 per cent [of the] customers [were] from the north and they’d come here, and they’d shop. I think what Landrex has done in St. Albert and north really, really is important for our community,” he said.
The pandemic also had an impact on the business.
People couldn’t travel, they couldn’t buy cars because of shortages, and they turned to homes.
“[The pandemic] drove people to realize the importance of a home,” he said.
Baran said COVID gave the business the opportunity to build a business plan focused on growth and diversity.
“We want to diversify into doing more partnerships similar to the one that we did with Fort McKay and mixed-use development multi-family commercial rental,” she said.
In March, Landrex announced they would be 50/50 partners with Fort McKay First Nation for a new $176-million Urban Village in St. Albert.
The village will be one of the largest First Nation real-estate developments in the Edmonton region. The development will focus on walkability and will include 300 long-term rental units, 100 units for assisted living, a one-acre park, and around 60,000 to 90,000 square feet of commercial space.
“We’ll always be a real estate company — that’s what Landrex is — but instead of just developing land and selling it, we want to strategically hold that land and develop it for our future asset growth,” she said.
Baran said she hopes 50 years in business means they are a force to be reckoned with.