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Eleventh-hour plan launched to save Toronto’s historic Matador Ballroom

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A group of supporters of the Matador Ballroom believe the historic night club can be saved yet, and has proposed a community-driven bond purchasing scheme which has helped similar spaces live on in the city.

The Matador, which has lain dormant since it closed eight years ago, was expected to soon re-open its doors following a lengthy bureaucratic odyssey. After finally having its application accepted by the city to be rezoned so as to allow it to host musical performances, it appeared the Matador, once an infamous after-hours bar, was on track to be reborn as a year-round events space and restaurant, starting next spring.

Then in mid-October, co-owner Paul McCaughey announced he was departing the project and the building where the Matador is housed, at 466 Dovercourt Rd., will be put up for sale. It’s since been listed for $4.9 million.

Despite a history in the community dating back more than 100 years, McCaughey admitted ‘investor fatigue’ had played a role in the seemingly untimely end of the Matador, its final fate likely to be the future site of a residential development.

But after hearing the group’s proposal to issue community bonds, McCaughey tells the Bloor West-Parkdale Neighbourhood Voice he’s intrigued to learn more about the idea in the hopes it can be used to purchase the site and run the Matador’s operations as a nonprofit.

Under the terms of the proposal put forth by Ryan Collins-Swartz and Stephanie Pinnington, from the community investment nonprofit organization Tapestry Capital, bonds of varying dollar amounts would be issued for a fixed term to anyone interested in taking part.

McCaughey, who met with both Collins-Swartz and Pinnington last week, estimates he’ll need $7.5 million to purchase 466 Dovercourt, complete renovations and cover staff and opening costs.

Collins-Swartz and Pinnington, who have been on the search for prospective investors, said the use of community bonds have been successfully employed by other community groups in purchasing real estate for their operations.

They mentioned the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI), which has purchased two downtown buildings already making use of community bonds. Toronto Artscape, which builds live and work spaces for artists, has also made use of community bonds in financing site purchases.

While not a product of community bonds, Hugh’s Room, which was also going to close, was eventually saved following intervention from community members and has since been re-christened as a nonprofit.

In the case of the Matador, what makes it an attractive vehicle for community investment is its iconic past, where the likes of Robbie Robertson and Leonard Cohen performed and caroused through the years, leaving their signatures on the Matador’s walls, along with its likely high return of investment since the project has received public support from the mayor’s office, local councillor Ana Bailao and a host of supporters.

“There’s many different ways it can serve a social purpose while serving the community in a positive way, while earning revenues and being able to pay investors back,” said Collins-Swartz.

While McCaughey sees the potential in community bonds, he admits there’s one person he needs to convince that the plan has value: his brother and main investor Gerry.

“We did this project together because we’re brothers, and I’m a small business man and he’s as big business as you can get,” said McCaughey of his brother, who is a bank CEO. “For the past eight years, he’s been exemplary in his willingness to support an extremely risk-worthy project.”

McCaughey hopes if he can’t delay the sale of the building, then to convince his brother to delay accepting an offer so as to allow for enough time for the community bonds to be issued and fund an eventual purchase.

“We’re at the pinnacle of achieving something that is the epitome of iconic,” he said.

Rahul Gupta is a reporter with toronto.com and Metroland Media Toronto. Email: rgupta@toronto.com

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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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