In Conversation With… Larry Blankenstein
BY GALE BEEBY
It’s full circle as the president of the Lash Group redevelops an area where his father built rental stock in the 1950s
Larry Blankenstein is a trendsetter who walks where others fear to tread.
Take Cloud9, for example, a midrise condo building on Esther Lorrie Drive and Kipling Avenue with views of the Humber River valley in an area of Rexdale that hasn’t seen new development for over 60 years. Here, the Lash Group took a chance and it paid off. The 260-unit building sold out quickly and what was once a great family community is now looking hopefully to the future.
In 2002, the Lash Group was one of the first developers in the King Street West and Bathurst Street neighbourhood, which is now part of the trendy Entertainment District.
“It was hard selling that first building, but it was the beginning of that neighbourhood’s transition from industrial to residential. This is what I love doing,” Blankenstein said during a wide-ranging interview at the company’s Downsview offices.
“Bathurst and St. Clair was another tough sell. We were building west of Bathurst on St. Clair, which was considered a rough area even though it was just the other side of Bathurst. But we’re now on our fourth building there and the neighbourhood has blossomed.
And now Blankenstein is taking on Scarborough.
Blankenstein, who helms the company his father founded in 1955, says that ME Living is at the forefront of a renaissance that is reinvigorating the long depressed area of Woburn. Located at Markham Road and Ellesmere Avenue, when complete, ME Living will include condominiums, townhomes, shops and parks.
“We are really trying to be innovative,” Blankenstein said. “Over 60 years ago my father built rental buildings at Markham and Ellesmere.
“ And now we’re tearing down the old and building the new. It truly is a full circle.”
Q: Tell me about the history of the Lash Group.
A: My father, Abe, came to Canada in 1955 from Eastern Europe with nothing. On the boat to Canada, he met his future partner, who was an electrical engineer, and my father was a master electrician.
Together they founded Falco Electric, which evolved into Falco Properties. Falco continued to grow, building commercial and industrial space and building rental apartment buildings, and then moved into residential houses under the name of Marble Arch Homes. In 2000, it was decided to sell the industrial portfolio as the two families decided to go there own way and we became the Lash Group.
My father, who is 86, still comes into the office every day. He’s pretty amazing.
Q: Did you always know you would work for the family business, or did you have other interests?
A: I was always destined for this and I love it. As a kid, I worked at the job sites, doing everything from manual labour, cleaning, servicing and then I became an assistant supervisor.
I went on to York University after high school and studied urban planning. Then I came into the family business and did sales and marketing and land acquisition. I was out in the field for 15 years and all that experience — from the bottom up — has given me a greater appreciation for everything our team does on a daily basis.
When we started Marble Arch Homes, we were building approximately 200 houses a year in the GTA. But in the early 2000s, with the lack of available land to develop, I was able to realize my passion for building highrise condominiums in tough-to-sell neighbourhoods. Cloud9, for instance, really stands out and now other developers are looking to follow our lead. And our first condo, at 66 Portland in West King West, was a hard sell at first.
Q: What drew you to Markham Road and Ellesmere?
A: It was the rental buildings that my father built. Nothing had been developed in that neighbourhood for 50 or 60 years and the time had come to take down the old buildings and replace them with something new and modern.
I am especially proud of ME Living, a master-planned community that will include not only the four condo towers, but also townhomes. We’re building well beyond what the city requires and the project will include multi-million dollar parks, a pond with a bridge that converts into a skating rink in the winter, a tree-lined courtyard and a rooftop swimming pool.
Q: What’s on the drawing board right now?
A: Well, we just had our grand opening of the second phase of ME Living and we’re currently selling Distinction Condos at Lillina Street and Soudan Avenue, south of Eglinton Avenue and just east of Yonge Street. It’s a terrific location, within walking distance of the subway and the future Eglinton LRT.
Q: What makes you proud?
A: My staff, everyone who contributes to the team. We try to make things as seamless as possible, to create complete communities. My goal is to make our customers happy, to make their dreams come true.
We really are one big happy family!
Q: What do you do for fun?
A: I love to travel and golf. We have a cottage and I really enjoy spending time at the lake with my wife and four children (aged 17, 19, 21 and 23).
- ME Living