George Armoyan isn’t afraid of a fight. Citizens line up at public meetings to speak out against his housing and real estate developments; he was banned from Halifax’s municipal buildings for six months in 2014 for allegedly exhibiting threatening behaviour; the following year he sued the city over a development he felt was being held up. (It was settled out of court.) But the founder and director of Armco Capital Inc. shrugs off the controversy he attracts.
“In real estate you always face challenges,” Armoyan says. “It could be demoralizing or disappointing many times. You always have to find ways to beat the bureaucracy of the system.”
Today Armco is one of the largest real estate developers in Eastern Canada, having produced more than 10,000 home lots, plus commercial and industrial sites across Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec, Georgia, North Carolina and Florida.
When Armoyan started the business 35 years ago, he was a fresh engineering graduate, but that wasn’t where his passion lay. Instead, Armoyan was an entrepreneurial kid. “I’ve been living and breathing business since I was 12 years old,” he says. “I knew I wanted to build something special. I just didn’t have anything in mind.”
At the time, the economy was weak and interest rates were high. The then 22-year-old bought a bankrupt three-store retail chain at auction and liquidated the assets. He used the money to buy his first housing development, in Bedford, a tony Halifax neighbourhood.
Armoyan put the profits back into the company, a practice he says is key to Armco’s growth. “By reinvesting everything in your company and not having much debt, you have the flexibility to take advantage of these opportunities when they knock on your door,” he says.
And knock they have. While the U.S. real estate market was falling apart in 2010 and 2011, Armco bought properties in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. “When we went to those states, the people thought we had horns in our heads,” Armoyan says with a laugh. The Florida properties included undeveloped land and parts of Veranda Park, an unfinished upscale mixed-use waterfront village in Orlando that had gone dark a decade earlier due to the developer’s legal issues. Today the property is thriving.
Armoyan says he’ll retire “the day I die,” but he is thinking about his legacy. In August 2016, Armco bought Halifax’s World Trade and Convention Centre (WTCC) for $13.5 million, and he sees the chance to create something lasting with the development. The building is in the heart of downtown and attached to the Scotiabank Centre, the city’s key sports facility. The WTCC actually houses the centre’s lobby, box office, the Sports Hall of Fame and fire exits. Armoyan says he’ll hold public consultations before deciding what to do with the landmark building. Over the past 35 years, he’s learned the value of listening to people—even when they don’t like what he plans to do.