Who is Fraser Hall? Who is the developer looking to turn the vacant lot on the south side of the intersection of the Trans-Canada Highway and Highway 23 North into a shopping centre?
Hall doesn’t have a big online presence, especially for a tech guy, but he’s not invisible. While the Hall Pacific website doesn’t say anything about him, another of his ventures, the Vancouver Founder Fund, includes the following introduction: “A lifelong entrepreneur, activist and technology leader, he brings order and calm to fiery situations.”
That bio also says he was a co-founder of Recon Instruments, a tech company that makes smart-displays for various eyewear. The technology was used during a stop of the Freeride Wold Tour in Revelstoke a few years ago. Recon was bought by Intel for a reported $175 million earlier this year.
Hall is also the founder of Bryght.com, a website that sells designer furniture at discount prices. The Vancouver Founder Fund is a small venture capital firm he started with one of his partners from Recon. The goal is to provide seed funds to help start-up companies.
The bio also says he’s an animal rights activist who was once a captain for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
A bit more digging reveals he used to be a development manager for the Onni Group, a massive Canadian real estate company.
How does all that fit together? I spoke to Hall last week to learn more about the person behind what many feel is the most important development to hit Revelstoke since the resort was built in 2007. We talked about how he went from the tech sector to real estate development, how he became a captain with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and why he’s looking at a development in Revelstoke.
“It’s an interesting path I’ve taken to become a developer,” he told me.
Hall, 38, grew up in Kelowna, where his father owned Regency Resorts, a company that runs retirement homes for seniors in the Okanagan. Fraser would travel to job sites with his father and it sparked an interest in development.
However, he didn’t pursue that route right away. Instead, he went to the University of Western Ontario, where he graduated with a degree in computer engineering in 1999.
From there, he got a job with a company called Creo, which made laser imaging systems for printing presses. Hall’s job was to program the lasers.
While he was there, he learned about the controversial marine conservation organization, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. “I could not believe that Paul Watson and these guys were just doing what was right,” he said. “These guys were going out there and shutting down people that were destroying our oceans. I couldn’t believe that someone actually had the guts to do this.”
After contacting the organization – and being rebuffed – he showed up in Amsterdam and walked aboard their flagship Ocean Warrior, saying he was a deck cleaner. He rose through the ranks quickly, eventually becoming captain.
Watch a CNN interview with members of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, including Fraser Hall. The article continues after the video.
After two years with Sea Shepherd he got a job on a different ship – this time as a program director and captain of a sailing expedition called Reach the World. After a year there, he served as headmaster aboard another yacht – this one for a program called Class Afloat that Hall himself attended in grade 10.
Eventually, he returned to land and enrolled in the MBA program at the University of British Columbia. While there, he and some friends founded Recon Instruments. “We were doing it off the side of our desks on the weekend,” he said.
From there, it was back to real estate, but why get into real estate when you have a background in technology and you’ve just started a business?
For one, it was a way of following in his father’s footsteps. For another, Hall said he found it “very creative.”
“I find real estate development very creative in the sense of actual creation,” Hall replied. “I’m not an artistic person but I love the idea of putting together a project.”
With the Onni Group, Hall was the development manager for several major mixed retail and commercial projects in the Lower Mainland. He left the company after several years to re-focus his attentions on Recon Instruments as it was starting to take off.
The company makes eyewear technology that allows skiers, runners and mountain bikers to track their movement. It was bought by Intel for $175 million earlier this year.
The proceeds from that sale helped Hall and two business partners – Dan Eisenhardt, who was the CEO of Recon, and Jay Rhind – launch the Vancouver Founder Fund, a venture capital firm who’s motto is “By Founders. For Founders.”
Their goal is to provide seed money to early-stage start-ups. The fund has $15 million to invest and provides investments of $100,000 to $1 million.
“Over the course of exiting Recon, we found there was this vacuum of money that was actually friendly to entrepreneurs and founders of companies,” Hall said. “It’s made to make money but it has an altruistic side to grow Vancouver and Western Canadian start-ups.”
He also started Hall Pacific during this time, in 2011. “I actually quite enjoyed Onni, although I always wanted to do it on my own,” he said. “I had to leave in order to support Recon, which turned out to be successful.”
Hall Pacific has started out small. Their first project was the development of a TD Bank location in Lake Country. The second was a two-unit commercial development in Prince George that is anchored by a Shopper’s Drug Market. The second lot on that site is still vacant.
He also worked for his father’s company to develop a retirement home in Vernon that is about to begin construction.
Now, he has several projects on the go, the two biggest being shopping centre proposals for Revelstoke and North Cowichan.
With 68,000 square feet of retail space, the Revelstoke Crossing proposal is significantly bigger than anything else Hall Pacific has worked on, though Hall said he worked on much bigger projects when he was with the Onni Group.
“I think it’s the appropriate size for myself,” he said. “I’ve built much much larger projects and been responsible for them from end-to-end.”
Hall said he looks for sites in secondary markets and that are underserved by retail development. He doesn’t like working in big cities because of the lengthy approval processes that he says favours deep-pocketed developers.
He said he learned of the Revelstoke Crossing location through Form Retail, a company that leases out retail real estate throughout B.C. They were the ones who broached the Canadian Tire proposal that didn’t come to fruition last year.
“This (site) is unique in that there’s an artery of traffic going by this site,” he said. “There’s a long way between shopping on this highway. Maybe we should take a look at it. We floated it out to some anchors and received some interest”
Hall wouldn’t reveal the identity of those anchors, saying he wasn’t allowed to disclose until the companies were ready to announce. He said they signed offers to lease, which are non-binding. He has also spoken to restaurants that are ready to move on to the site if it goes ahead.
“I know it seems somehow underhanded. I don’t have a choice. I can tell you it’s not traditional big box. It’s not a Superstore or Walmart,” he said. “It is a traditional, national brand grocery. It is a national brand drug (store).”
Hall said he is surprised by the level of opposition the development has received in Revelstoke. He said initial conversations he had indicated people would be favourable to the proposal.
“We canvassed around town a little bit before and it sounded like there was a need for competition, especially on the grocery side,” he said. “That people thought there was an artery of traffic that was simply driving by Revelstoke. It seemed like there was a lot of interest to capture that value.”
Hall said the reason there’s so little information on the Hall Pacific website is because they generally don’t deal with the public, and don’t feel the need to have a public face. “We aren’t the face, the face is our tenants,” he said. “We’re the background making the deal happen.”
Read a bio submitted by Fraser Hall to the City of Revelstoke below: