About 40 years ago, Besim Halef (the developer behind Bedford Commons) stood in an immigration office in Switzerland and studied a map of Canada trying to choose where he would build a life. His gaze fell on Halifax. To the young man from a tiny town in southeast Turkey, it looked big and promising, so he wrote it down on his application.
He had left his family home a few years earlier, where he was one of 10 children, to get an education in Europe. Eventually, despite not speaking a word of English or having any connections here, he decided Canada was where he wanted to be.
Halef landed in Halifax on March 24, 1975, a date he has memorized, as March 24 is also his daughter’s birthday. He didn’t have an easy transition. He struggled with language barriers while working his way up in local kitchens and furthering his education, but eventually added a mathematics degree, an engineering diploma, and a metallurgical engineering degree to his credentials.
After graduation, Halef joined an offshore fabrication company and steadily climbed up the ladder to the vice-president position, despite the company suffering a series of setbacks. When new owners put the company into bankruptcy once again, Halef thought he could fix things, “So I went and bought the company,” he chuckles. “I made an offer to the receiver. I put everything, like they say on the roulette table…on the black.”
And the gamble paid off.
“I always liked real estate, you know, because my grandfather was a builder,” he says. “I always liked land. I used to dabble in it from time to time, a little bit anyway, not to the extent we are right now.”
He’s CEO of BANC Group of Companies. He works alongside his son, Alex, who manages most of the residential developments. Their portfolio includes multiple commercial and residential properties across the HRM, including the sprawling 101 hectares that make up Bedford Commons.
Originally Halef was brought as a third financier for Bedford Commons but the partnership dissolved, so he bought out the other partners to own the whole property. Businesses started opening at the development in 2006.
“It is a destination and power centre in Bedford,” he says.
Steve Earle is the chair of the Bedford Business Association and believes the development has had a positive impact on the community.
“It has provided Bedford with considerable and growing options for consumers, from both locally owned and national retailers, and service providers within a five minute drive,” he says.
Currently the area only has commercial, retail, and office space. Halef says that will change in coming years. The space behind Rocky Lake Junior High has 14 hectares set aside for residential and recreational use. Eventually Damascus Road and Verdi Drive will loop together to access the residential properties.
Halef isn’t in a rush to build. He’s seen overbuilding happen in other parts of the city and feels it’s better to wait until the need is there.
“We have still close to another 40 hectares of commercial to develop. We know what we want to do—we are taking the opportunity to grow it slowly and be sure,” he explains.
The project is slated to finish by 2025.
“It was always a 20-year project,” he says, “When you look at a 250-acre [101 hectares] development, it takes you a long time.”
He also owns Sackville Business Park, across from Bedford Commons, which will only feature industrial businesses. They’re in the process of designing the roads there, however, Halef is again waiting to start development when demand is high rises.
He says the struggles he had to face in his early years in Canada taught him about perseverance and helping others. He adds that now that he is the proud grandfather of six, they inspire him to continue to work hard.
“It’s never been about money for me”, Halef says, “[I want] to succeed in creating something and leaving a legacy for the future. When I am gone away from this earth, my grandkids can say, `My grandfather opened that,’ and that will give them motivation to do something for themselves. That is my motivation.”