– Story by Kathy Michaels Photography by Darren Hull
Craig Mohr looks at the three old houses he bought on Groves Avenue and sees more than the remnants of Kelowna’s small-town history.
He sees 450 Parc, a six-storey condo building — tucked between behemoth development SOPA square and a quaint, treed-in playground — that would be just as well-suited to Manhattan as it is to what’s become one of Kelowna’s most coveted neighbourhoods.
“There’s going to be a mixture of steel accents, brick and limestone,” said Craig, the owner of Vineyard Developments, one day in late spring as he gestured to phantom features of the soon-to-be-built development just off Pandosy Street.
“A lot of what you see in old town Manhattan, when you have both old and new co-existing, that will be here.”
The project is going to offer its residents high-end condo living without the shackles of dealing with a large strata.
On each of the six levels, there will be four 1,450-to-1,700-square-foot units. Each will have front to back views. And each will be of penthouse quality. It’s unique for the city, but Craig has seen the demand for this kind of high-end housing among his dad’s friends, and thinks he found just the right place to make his vision come to life.
The development is also the culmination of nearly two decades of work and with its completion, Craig sees a personal turning point.
He’s a fifth generation builder, but he didn’t fall into the family business. Where his predecessors saw deadlines, budgets and other practical matters, he saw shapes and colour, beauty and balance.
“When I was around 19 years old, my dad asked me if I wanted to take over the family business and I was like, ‘why would I ever want to do that?’”
At the time, he was working in retail in Edmonton and he liked it — the money was decent, he felt fulfilled and was having fun. His parents had their concerns, however, and they pushed him to enroll in the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology’s business program, so he acquiesced.
“It actually went pretty well,” he said.
He completed some business and marketing programs and came out knowing one thing for sure — he didn’t want the type of job that would entail getting dirty.
“I wanted to wear a suit and tie to work,” he said, laughing. “I got a job at Western Star (in Kelowna) and worked there for five years.”
It was at the peak of the company’s success, which meant Craig was just a footnote in a huge employee roster.
“I realized then I wasn’t going to do well in a large corporate environment,” he said.
Still young, and with adventure calling his name, he left Kelowna and went to Vancouver for a couple of years and then, when his bills started to outpace his income, he travelled north to work on oil rigs. Two years into that very dirty work, which was 17 years ago, he had an epiphany — the past offered the clearest path to a successful future.
“It was pretty cold and around Christmas and I called my dad. We were having a nice conversation and I said I was thinking of starting a construction company in Kelowna and ‘would you consider helping me?’” he recalled. “There was dead silence on the other side of the phone and I could tell he was thinking. Then he said, ‘well how serious are you?’ I was dirty, cold and tired and I said, ‘I’m pretty serious.’”
And that was it. He stopped floating and found purpose.
Craig’s dad was helping First Lutheran find a location for its new school and church, and that offered an opportunity for him to start his first multifamily development.
A parcel of land, near the Capital News Centre was designated for townhouses and Craig and his dad took it on as a project.
“I was responsible for most of the work, working with the architect. I priced the development, selected interior design finishes, managed the construction, sold all the units, managed the clients and did the preceding service work,” he said.
“I personally sat in the sales centre and sold the units on the weekend and did construction during the week.”
For several years it was “sink or swim.”
The project did well and there were more for Craig. In the years that followed, he worked on high-end custom homes. He’s created signature homes in the Upper Mission and multifamily dwellings in Penticton and Kelowna. He’s weathered a real estate crash and made it out a success.
“All of it has been a huge learning experience,” he said.
That’s not to say he’s done. Now, having learned the ropes and honed his craft, Craig sees himself developing as a communicator and as a person.
“There’s not a day that goes by where there’s not more to learn,” he said. “You make mistakes and learn from it and keep pushing forward— it’s been really great to be able to do that.”
He’s done it without compromising who he is. He’s still someone who sees shapes and colours, beauty and balance. And with his work popping up around the Okanagan, so too can the people who live in the valley.