Property has always been a part of my life, from stories told at the dinner table about my grandfather buying and selling farmland in the Yarra Valley to going out on my own at 20 years old, after only a few years in the trade.
The early days of Pellegrino Group Australia (PGA) started with me renovating unloved terrace houses in Carlton, an inner-city suburb of Melbourne. Restoration became my core business for a decade.
Industry changes meant I had to shift my business focus from residential to retail and industrial, so I started buying old Victorian retail shopfronts along Bridge Road in Richmond which helped establish it as a premier fashion high street of inner Melbourne. My experience with terrace houses came into its own as I converted the shops back to their former glory, including restoring all the Victorian period features people love, such as wrought iron balustrades on verandahs.
As the business grew, I looked for more opportunity to create stock. We moved east of Melbourne and began developing industrial estates in Ringwood, Bayswater and Oakleigh. One of our most significant developments, Merrindale Estate in Croydon, took ten years to complete, and it’s a site that still makes us proud.
I believe the core component of my success is my ability to choose the right sites. I won’t go into an area looking for a quick opportunity. What I look for is a site that will deliver value to everyone. From suppliers to investors looking for returns to the end-user – be it a retailer who wants to give their customers a great experience or an employer who wants to create an excellent space for their employees.
After the 1993 recession, I took my business to Queensland because of new opportunities that the state offered over Victoria. I found an abundance of great sites in Queensland, including the old Post Office and Telegraph building in Cairns – a great example of finding the right site. The building was earmarked for demolition, but I convinced the local council and Australia Post to sell it to PGA, and we converted it into a international duty free store that is still operating today. Cairns got a beautifully restored building; retailers got a great new space, and visitors get to connect to a part of the area’s history every day.
Some of our most enjoyable projects have been taking old buildings in different cities in Australia and overseas and turning them into something for today, such as retail developments in inner cities and luxury hotel experiences in Italy. We give buildings that others might have knocked down a new life and a new purpose while retaining their place in history.
More recently my focus has been on Large Format retail centres and Commercial Office buildings, which provide us with a balanced recurring investment portfolio in blue-chip locations.