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OPG sells Hearn waterfront site for $16 million

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Provincially owned Ontario Power Generation has sold the 16-hectare (40-acre) Hearn generating site on Toronto’s east waterfront for $16 million.

OPG’s Thursday announcement that it sold the land and huge decommissioned plant to long-term tenant Studios of America blindsided Toronto councillor Paula Fletcher, who wanted the polluted Unwin Ave. site redeveloped for public use.

“It’s shocking,” she said in an interview.

“This is a sad day for the waterfront.

“This is an iconic landmark building that should remain in public hands and be part of our new waterfront, and, instead, it has been sold for a song.”

In October 2017, when the existence of sale negotiations became public, he said the then-Liberal government vowed Toronto would be consulted before any purchase.

“The first I heard of the actual sale was today, when I guess (OPG) put out a press release saying it was done,” Tory said Thursday.

“It had been rumoured that it was going to happen. We were not consulted on it. We were not given an offer to buy it, as a city,” he said, noting Studios of America’s lease gave it first crack at a sale.

“It’s a heritage building. It’s an important building in the context of our waterfront, and, so I can only hope that what unfolds from here will be respectful, again, of the city of Toronto’s waterfront and our interest in making sure that that building and how it’s zoned, now and in the future, will be consistent with what we want to do with our waterfront and with the building of a great city.”

Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government did not make the sale decision, said Sydney Stonier, press secretary for Energy Minister Greg Rickford, but “we believe this decision (by the OPG board) is in the best interest of taxpayers.”

OPG is a corporation with a board of directors reporting to sole shareholder, the province of Ontario. OPG’s real estate strategy manager last fall told a city committee the Hearn site wouldn’t be sold without the government’s “blessing.”

OPG spokesperson Neal Kelly said the board approved the purchase with conditions, which include Studios of America not being able to resell the site within three years and not putting residential and other “sensitive uses” there within 15 years.

He noted the former coal-burning site is “heavily contaminated” and encumbered by rights to access and use for a nearby Hydro One switch yard and Port Lands natural gas electrical generating station.

“It’s an industrial brownfield site requiring site preparation and remediation and that impacts its value,” which was determined by a 2016 external independent evaluation, Kelly said. “Also, any demolition or alteration of property’s heritage characteristics need approval of the City of Toronto.”

Studios of America, owned by partners including company president prominent real estate developer Mario Cortellucci and firm president Paul Vaughan, had a lease on the site, decommissioned as a power plant in 1983, from 2002 to 2041.

The company approached OPG in 2013 about exercising its first right of refusal if the site was sold. Two years later OPG deemed the property surplus.

Vaughan refused comment when reached Thursday, saying he wasn’t aware the sale was being announced.

Cortellucci’s Cortel Group has not yet responded to the Star’s questions, including what other “sensitive uses” can’t happen at the site for 16 years.

Cortellucci, a wealthy homebuilder and philanthropist who in March failed in a bid to be elected to the Italian senate as part of a right-wing coalition, donated the maximum $1,200 to Ford’s leadership campaign, provincial records show.

Other family members including his son Nick Cortellucci gave Ford’s leadership campaign donations totalling thousands more.

—with files from Wendy Gillis

David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering Toronto politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider

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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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