Developer in focus: Urban Inc.

In an impudent moment there was a temptation to name this article '50 shades of Urban Inc.' for the development firm has borne out a number of affiliate companies, linked back to the burgeoning parent in some manner. Presented with the opportunity to speak with Urban Inc. Executive Director Danny Ciarma, Urban Melbourne took to opportunity to clarify some grey areas and see what the future holds for the dynamic Melbourne developer.

And Urban Inc. was born

Initially practicing as a registered architect, Danny Ciarma found the position to be "one-dimensional" and thereafter left the profession to take a position with Village Roadshow as in-house architect. Subsequently Danny transitioned through roles at the then Docklands Authority, John Sheridan and ultimately Pan Urban.

It was there where Danny Ciarma and Tim Gurner joined forces amidst the Global Financial Crisis. At a point where development dynamics had changed and financial institutions were reticent to finance large-scale projects, the duo found opportunity in pursuing boutique buildings in their own right.

Different target markets and smaller project sizes required a new approach and a new brand to propel their plans forward, and Urban Inc. was born.

Danny Ciarma & Tim Gurner. Images © Urban Inc.

Here, there and Urban everywhere

Urban Inc. continues to power ahead with a healthy stable of current and future projects. Currently Little Ox, Alessi and Oxley are well into construction with Leroy Apartments and Canopy Apartments at sales.

The most recent release see the $30 million Leroy Apartments comprise 72 apartments over a low-set five-storey building. 22 x 1 bed, 5 x 1 bed + study, 38 x 2 bed and 7 x 2 bed + study constitute the apartment mix with 45 accounted for in five weeks. The ROTHELOWMAN-designed project is expected to commence construction during October.

But it's through the constant surge of Urban Inc. that two separate development firms have been created. Danny Ciarma has spawned Urban DC while Tim Gurner conceived GURNER™, allowing both men to follow their own developments while still collaborating at Urban Inc. Danny Ciarma admits there may have been some market ambiguity over the differing brands, but ultimately all three development arms continue to excel.

The winner formula: it's all about the buyer

Throughout the talk with Danny Ciarma, it became clearly apparent that Urban Inc. have a particular business model in mind: the delivery of small to mid-sized apartment developments targeted heavily toward local owner occupiers and some local investors. "The process starts with selecting a quality site, while also resisting the urge to jump at every site that comes across our radar."

Thereafter employ high-end architecture firms to tailor the design to a specific site and target client: the owner-occupier. In doing so creating a development with "The right location, right product and right pricing point", perfectly exampled by Leroy Apartments and a raft of other smaller scale residential projects.

Urban Melbourne countered by asking where 1 Warde Street in Foostscray's Hopkins Street Precinct stands within the grand scheme of things? A departure to high-rise, high-density living, Danny Ciarma explains Urban Inc. came on as a joint venture partner for the project of 311 apartments. No planning application has been granted as yet and "Options are open" regarding the project which if realised would ultimately be one of many high-rise towers within the precinct.

Out of the box - 1 Warde Street, Footscray. Image courtesy GURNER™

Future intent

With a healthy reservoir of future projects, Urban Inc. are relatively content to pursue those projects through to completion, although if the opportunity presented itself the team would naturally take the opportunity to expand their portfolio. Footscray, Cremorne and Abbotsford hold future projects, although two development sites have garnered more attention to date.

14 Elizabeth Street, Richmond and 233-247 Victoria Street, Abbotsford both require design alterations after initially finding no favour with City of Yarra. Considered investment stock by Danny Ciarma, both sites aren't high on the development radar at present.

Regardless Urban Inc. and associated development arms have done nothing but gain hand over fist since Urban Inc.'s 2005 inception, and there's nothing to suggest that trend won't continue.


Bilby's picture

Mark, the Victoria Street 'site' mentioned has an interesting history - both in heritage terms and in more recent times. Can you elaborate on why the proposal was refused and what is happening with the heritage assessments of the buildings in that important Victorian shopfront row now?

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Bilby's picture

Fair call, Mark. This is an interesting read for anyone who might have wondered about the heritage significance of this really great row of terraces. I for one would have been very sad to see them go - such a prominent corner and an essential piece of this part of Richmond's character and history:

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