Fredericton / News / City stories
A detail from the new Bella Properties Inc apartment building going up at 100 Clark St.

Bella Developments: Helping to Build A More Urban Fredericton

Work and family have always been at the center of Gabriel Elzayat’s life, constant and inseparable. He vividly remembers selling groceries door to door at age 6 with his father in Lebanon. And after they moved to Canada when he was 16, his parents worked cleaning motel rooms while he and his siblings helped with the rent by holding down jobs on top of going to school. 

“My parents taught us never to rely on other people for a helping hand. If you can do it, then just do it,” he recalled. “That was ingrained in us from the beginning.”

Today, Elzayat is one of the busiest developers in Fredericton. His latest project, a 44-unit apartment building on Clark St. on the city’s north side, is set to welcome residents later this summer. And an 8-unit apartment building on Brunswick St. will be ready by September. 

The Clark St. property, which includes underground parking, is the culmination of years of planning. “I’m really excited about it because I feel it’s going to spur more investment in that part of town,” he said. “There’s so much untapped potential in that area of Union Street, and other developers have started to invest there in the last couple of years.”

Elzayat’s companies, Bella Properties Inc. and ElZayat Development Ltd., specialize in high-density residential builds, which are in high demand as Fredericton’s population – particularly in the downtown – continues to grow beyond what even conservative estimates had predicted. The resulting demand for downtown living is outpacing the housing supply. 

 “Fredericton is the product of its own success,” said Bruce Grandy, Chair of the City’s Development Committee. “We are a growing community and are experiencing a very low vacancy rate, which puts pressure on our affordable housing options for many families. As a Council, we’re always mindful of housing supply and demand to strike a balance that accommodates existing and new residents within our city.”

Elzayat agreed with that there’s a big need for housing in Fredericton’s downtown. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm in the community for building more density into the downtown. You get a real feeling of forward momentum, and the City has been an integral part of that,” he said. 

Elzayat only started developing “from scratch” five years ago; before that, he’d been buying and renovating houses for more than a decade. “My family never owned anything before we all pitched in to buy our first house,” he said. “None of my family was in the property business. So, after doing my homework, my siblings and I bought a house for $65,000 on Smythe St. We couldn’t get a bank mortgage, so the seller held the mortgage for us.” 

Eventually, the challenge of finding promising properties at a reasonable price led Elzayat to make the switch to building new developments. “I’d always dreamed of doing something bigger – of developing properties,” he recalled. “The first two properties I built were with my brother. We bought an old building, tore it down and built two new buildings with 76 units.”

The entrepreneurial spirit that kept Elzayat’s family afloat all those years ago continues to burn within him today. “When we moved here, I couldn’t speak any English; we were poor. But my parents were always entrepreneurs, even when that meant selling fruit door-to-door or running a convenience store that barely made money,” he said. “I now have a couple of nephews interested in development, and they’re moving forward extremely well. And I tell them what my parents taught me: Work hard, ask questions, minimize your expenses, build your nest egg. It sounds simple, but it takes effort and discipline and humility.”

“When I started developing properties, no one would give me advice because it’s a competitive business,” he said. “So, my rule of thumb is, if I can help someone with the right advice, I’m grateful for that, and I love doing it. I learned it from trial and error, and if I can save someone from making the mistakes I did, then I’m happy to do it.”

These days, Elzayat continues to grow his businesses, which include ownership stakes in several restaurants. “I feel like I’m just getting started,” he said. “We’re building homes for people to enjoy, and I make sure my staff treat people with that in mind. Our approach is definitely not cookie-cutter. We cater to the person who will live there, and to the neighbourhood they’ll call home.”