Building a lasting Legacy with 'Flamingo' - Canada's First 15-Minute City Located in the Historic Whalley District
Without a doubt, real estate is booming like never before and Surrey is a hotspot for new developments. Soon, Surrey’s Whalley District will be home to Canada’s first 15-minute city. Behind it all is the Founder, President, and Chief Visionary Officer of Tien Sher Group, Charan Sethi. Having named his company as such, the “three lions” name alludes to developer Sethi himself, and his two sons.
Sethi formed Tien Sher over 17 years ago. He has had a long, but enjoyable journey, developing and building single-family homes, townhouses, apartment buildings, and mix-use commercial and residential communities. Today, he is set to take further the mission of transforming the Whalley District into Surrey’s downtown. With the Surrey City Hall, Simon Fraser University, and the University of British Columbia (coming soon!) already in the mix, developers and the City of Surrey have been working on a dream project, Flamingo.
Flamingo One will be ideally situated to take advantage of Surrey’s 15-minute city, an urban planning concept where building uses and planned amenities are designed to provide access to all human needs by walking or bicycling within 15 minutes or less. Whalley District will be one such complete community.
The opportunity to indulge in a clean slate such as Whalley is an important one for Sethi, “We take a lot of pride in what we do. We don’t build buildings, we build communities. We think about how people will live, prioritizing community engagement.” Surrey is the largest city by land area and the second most populated in Metro Vancouver, creating an everlasting need for vibrancy and connection. Sethi’s overarching goal is to provide housing at a price that people can afford. His thought process when working through a project always revolves around who the end-buyer will be. He utilizes a mindset he calls social engineering, to drive his decision-making, using which he focuses on building a complete community based on whoever will be moving in.
The real estate legend says that he builds for all types of people. As such, Flamingo also has a commercial angle, providing space for entrepreneurs and businesspeople. Aside from small businesses, walk-in clinics, pharmacies, physiotherapists, and other medical facilities are already in the making. The intention is to serve the people living and working in the area. By creating walking-distance accessibility to everyday needs like transit and food, Sethi is also strategically helping the environment by reducing the carbon footprint and lessening gas emissions. He reveals that every parking stall will be ready for Electric Vehicle (EV) charging as well. Sethi adds, “Walking improves your health. You interact with more people, too. Neighbors get to know each other, forming a very safe environment where residents are looking out for each other.”
So far, Sethi has been overwhelmed by a phenomenal response from the public. Surely, his company has, over time, built the reputation of providing good products. Once residents get the key to move in, they are guaranteed to be satisfied. Tien Sher takes pride in the quality and is a trustworthy source, which is why it is of no surprise that 40% of sales have gone to previous buyers. Sethi himself shares that he is getting personal calls from realtors and investors, which he welcomes. After all, he’s not one to just stay behind the scenes. The industry enthusiast is proactively involved in the community.
Tracing back to when he was the first investor to buy into the Whalley area, Sethi remembers facing strong resistance and pushback for his choices. Now, he highlights that every building established so far in the area has been sold out in just one day, as Whalley is transforming into a metropolitan hub. Simply put, the area has become a top place to invest. To have such a vision over a decade ago is nothing short of genius and forward-looking business acumen. In fact, Sethi describes that the very first Whalley development plan he drew many years ago, is on a big sheet of paper that he still keeps in his office, observing how closely it resembles the plan that has now come to be, after all these years.
When asked about his secret to success, Sethi mentions hard work and self-discipline as key enablers of his accomplishments. “Things don’t happen automatically. If you are going to become a realtor, no one will tell you to wake up. If you don’t have the motivation, it just won’t happen,” emphasizes Sethi. To those that want to make it big in the real estate market, Sethi’s advice is to learn the product and the area in which you want to specialize, along with dedication and commitment. He elaborates that product and construction knowledge is important; providing good value should be prioritized over the drive to earn commissions.
The combination of endless work hours, passion, and resilience is evident when looking at the business empire Sethi has built from the ground up. However, despite his busy schedule over the years, Sethi says that he has always made it a point to put family first, “For the first 22 years, I was in sales and my kids were also younger. I still recall that my younger son was into ice hockey. I would make time and write his practices into my schedule, blocking off time as if it were an appointment. No matter who asked to meet with me, I’d hold my ground that my child is more important.” Sethi also credits his wife for her undying support and for taking on the full-time responsibility of caring for him, alongside their two sons and daughter.
From working three jobs at one time, where he was a machinist, house cleaner for builders, and pizza deliverer, to becoming a self-made business tycoon and proud grandfather of four children, Sethi is a community gem and role model. As he spearheads implementing the Flamingo master plan onto Surrey, Metro Vancouver’s geographic center, the Whalley District is in the hands of a capable and talented visionary.
Photography: Fahad Photo, Tien Sher Group of companies