Karl Vanderkuip is a Niagara real estate agent and entrepreneur with a passion for all things St. Catharines and energy to spare. He is the president of the St. Catharines Disc Golf Club, which had a hand in the major makeover of Centennial Park; he undertook an online campaign to rename Municipal Beach and attract funding for its renewal; helped create the popular Wing Fest in Port Dalhousie; and is responsible for the renovation of The UpHouse in downtown St. Catharines into a beautiful collaborative workspace.
We sat down with Karl to get a peek inside The UpHouse, learn more about his love of living local, and to find out what he is up to next.
SCS: How long have you lived in the Niagara Region?
K: I was pretty much born and raised here. The Vanderkuips are generational here, but I was actually born in British Colombia. My parents had a job placement in BC so they moved there for two years, had me, and came back. I like to tell people I was born and raised here but maybe I have a little West Coast in me.
SCS: Tell us about the UpHouse?
K: The UpHouse was purchased five years ago. It was bought out of interest in becoming an investor. I loved the location – a corner block across from Montebello Park. I thought originally that this would have been a really great coffee shop and I wanted to be a landlord to that coffee shop and have students living upstairs. However, as we went along with the plans and the drawings my designer put CallKarl right on top of the pergola and I was like, whoa.
At the time I was still at the ReMax office, which I still work with. However, I didn’t really want this to become a real estate office. That’s why we monikered it The UpHouse. I wanted it to have a diverse group of people working out of here, and be a place for fun and escape. I like that we have high visibility, but yet not a lot of people know what we do in here.
SCS: That’s true. The outside looks great but you don’t really get a feel for how awesome it is inside. It has the hip open plan vibe with beer taps and games. Do you find it a productive place to work?
K: I do. You know I think we all work harder than we like to admit so when you are here for longer periods of time there are things to carry the day.
SCS: What was this building before?
For 45 years, it was Leslie’s Pedicure. Leslie, who is a really neat lady who I have met, was on the first board of directors for the Chamber of Commerce. She is a proud-spirited businesswoman. Actually, my mother had her nails done here for her wedding. But it was a considerably different layout.
SCS: Tell us about the renovation of the UpHouse.
K: We had this classic Victorian home that we wanted to modernize but also embrace its past. We are always inspired when we go traveling. So, we were in Rio and there was a load of Portuguese Colonial homes that were modernized. We were inspired by a very similar building that had the modern glass that pops out there and the steel roof that can go well with the traditional red brick.
SCS: If you were describing St. Catharines to someone who hadn’t visited here before, what would you say?
K: For someone looking to move here, I would say it is Southern Ontario’s best-kept secret, which is a double-edged sword. You want to tell everyone about it, but you don’t want to tell everyone because it’s your secret. I think our quality of lifestyle here is second-to-none. The affordability is there. We are the garden city. We have an abundance of first-class parks, trails. We’re a beach town. We’re a waterfront town. I think that gets overlooked sometimes.
Like anywhere, I would say get to know the people. At the end of the day, it is always about the people. There might be something in the water here because the people in St. Catharines are pretty cool.
SCS: When you’re not working, where do you like to hang out in downtown St Catharines?
K: I love to hit the hot new spots. We recently went to oddBird and it was awesome and hilarious with the hip-hop music blaring. The food was wonderful, and I don’t know if they turned down the music for us or it just blended in after a while.
So we are definitely always chasing the next great spot. But, like today, I will be going to The Mermaid for lunch. I like the traditional dining experience and you can’t beat their Lobster Sandwich. If you were going out for a special occasion or you wanted to knock someone’s socks off then I would recommend going to Wellington Court. Lunch-wise, we are on a huge rotation of food here from A Touch of India to Yayee Thai Street Food.
SCS: Tell us about Wing Fest?
K: We are heading toward our third Wing Fest in 2018 and we are super excited to be in Port Dalhousie. Our group’s passion is to pursue who has the best chicken wing in town, which is a classic conversation in St. Catharines. It’s all for something near and dear to my heart – Community Care. All the proceeds go to Community Care.
We are basically a group of young entrepreneurs with no affiliation and we are looking to contribute and make a must-do on the calendar.
SCS: When is the 2018 Wing Fest?
K: The 11th and 12th of August, which is the end of the Henley Regatta weekend. We’ve got a lot of surprises in-store this year. We are making it more of an experience and it’s going to be pretty cool.
SCS: You were the catalyst for the renaming of Municipal Beach to Sunset Beach, correct? Tell us about that.
K: I was, yes. We did a seven-to-eight month online promotional campaign to have it changed. The whole spirit of it was, we know so many people that fly somewhere to experience a beautiful beach and a sunset, and they will take selfies of themselves and their friends. My family lives by the beach and we love it, and we were like, why aren’t more people posting from this beach? Because it has the most perfect sunsets all year long. It’s very dramatic from left to right.
I think it must have the most perfect sunset in all of Ontario, and we wanted that to be celebrated and for people to be excited about going to the beach and having fun in their own backyard.
SCS: Why do you think changing the name of the beach was important?
K: The changing of the name was important to inspire. The name prior, Municipal Beach, was more or less a placeholder. It might as well have been a number. And we really wanted to put it on the map. Certainly, the timing of the renaming worked well for the City of St. Catharines as they were planning to close a number of public pools. They wanted to support and celebrate the beach, and they continue to do that. As far a capital expenditures go, they are investing $35,000 into doing a master plan for the beach. I think it’s kind of neat that we had something to do with that.
The beach this past Summer was packed. It was full of young people having fun with beach balls and footballs, coolers, umbrellas, jet skis. There were 20-to-30 boats docked out there on a long weekend. It has been a massive change.
SCS: What’s your advice for anyone thinking of becoming an entrepreneur in St. Catharines?
K: Go for it! Perseverance has got to be your middle name. I think the economy is ripe and thriving on entrepreneurial spirit. The community really takes to new start-ups well, but that has to come with a good business plan and marketing campaign. Certainly, there are opportunities abound. Even in real estate, there is an opportunity on every street corner. You just have to make it happen.
SCS: You recently invested in a piece of real estate in the Fitzgerald neighbourhood. Tell us about that.
Yes, we have recently acquired a property in what I think is the most exciting neighbourhood in Niagara. There is a newly-formed Fitzgerald Neighbourhood Association, and there is so much going on. They have reconfigured the roads and updated the school of Harriet Tubman. The Terry Fox Trail goes through the neighbourhood. There are all sorts of zoning from low-rise to industrial, retirement centres and churches to commercial. Its density is so high, and there is a lot of opportunity for commercial to survive and succeed.
Our new place is on the Corner of Russell and Wolseley Avenue. Wolseley is my favourite Sunday drive in the city. There has only been one house for sale publicly in the last 12 years there. There is not a street where the pride of ownership is more evident. To be part of that is something really exciting.
The appeal was that it is a down-and-out building, much like The UpHouse was, that we are going to be able to take a hold of and make our own. With the commercial zoning, we are looking at finding the next great tenant; a unicorn perhaps. Someone who can really go in and make it happen. We have had a lot of great feedback from the residents that they would like a daytime meeting spot like a coffee shop, so that’s the angle we are pursuing at the moment. We are currently in the final phase of drawings, and it will be a big part of my life for most of 2018. Hopefully this time next year I can tell you we are having a grand opening.
We are looking at gutting the components down to the studs and exposing the red brick that is in there and having one luxury apartment upstairs. And, of course, we have standards to hit with Wolseley because I know the neighbourhood is waiting to see what we do with the place.
SCS: Sounds great! I live just around the corner, so I can’t wait to possibly have a new cafe nearby. Thank you for your time today!
K: Thank you.
You can find out more about Wing Fest 2018 on Facebook and keep an eye out on SCS for info on Karl’s new venture in the Fitzgerald neighbourhood.
Location 73 Queen St, St. Catharines, ON L2R