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Ontario wants to speed the sale of more than 200 surplus properties. But the process isn’t always easy

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Maybe you’re wondering if, with a few strategic renovations, an abandoned OPP detachment could be made over into the perfect summer getaway. Perhaps you envision a block of condos on the site of a decommissioned hospital.

Those are the type of publicly owned properties the Ontario government says it wants to sell. There are 243 on a list of buildings and land owned by Ontario taxpayers that are on a provincial surplus list.

The province says it wants to sell off 243 surplus properties to monetize public assets. One of those properties is a house at 567 Arlington Ave. However it’s not on the open market yet.
The province says it wants to sell off 243 surplus properties to monetize public assets. One of those properties is a house at 567 Arlington Ave. However it’s not on the open market yet.  (MOE DOIRON FOR THE TORONTO STAR)

The Progressive Conservative government announced this month that, as part of its mission to cut red tape, it was speeding up the sale of those properties to raise between $105 million and $135 million for the public purse over four years. The divestiture would also save about $9.5 million annually in maintaining unused property, said Government and Consumer Services Minister Bill Walker.

Toronto Star readers wanted to know which public assets were being sold and the asking prices. But getting that information has proved a lot more complicated than looking for a home on a website like Realtor.ca.

While Walker’s office provided the Star with a list of the 243 properties being readied for sale, that information wasn’t posted online. A spokesperson for the minister said the list was being translated and prepared for posting. That list includes properties that are in various stages of the sales process — some have been recently sold, others are under contract, others are undergoing due diligence and targeted for future sale, according to the minister’s office.

In many cases it is impossible to determine from the list what is actually on the property, if anything. One line is listed simply as, “Toronto — Tapscott Rd. and Passmore Ave.”

Read more:

Province wants to speed sale of 243 surplus properties

Toronto council approves using 11 surplus properties for affordable housing

For properties actually being marketed for sale, the government referred us to the Infrastructure Ontario website. As of Monday, it included 16 properties that had cleared the bureaucratic process to be marketed publicly.

Twelve of those listings included sale prices ranging from $5,000 for a quarter-acre in Hornepayne, Ont., north of Sault Ste. Marie, to $14.7 million for 43 acres of employment-zoned land near Burnhamthorpe Rd. and Hwy. 403 in Oakville — described as an “excellent opportunity for future development or investment.”

There were 30 surplus properties sold between April 1, 2017 and March 31, 2018, and 17 of them were listed on the open market through a real estate broker. The average selling time: 100 days.

The remaining 13 were sold directly by Infrastructure Ontario to other government entities and arm’s-length agencies, or they were “non-viable parcels” sold to the owners of abutting properties.

Even before a property is considered surplus, the government is continually monitoring its real estate portfolio “to identify highest and best use,” said John Cimino, senior vice-president of portfolio planning, development and transactions.

If it is declared surplus, the property is circulated through the provincial government. If no other ministry wants it, the real estate goes to the federal and municipal governments and other public-sector agencies for consideration. Each party gets 30 days — down from 180 — to consider whether they want the site.

If nobody is interested, the real estate is appraised and Infrastructure Ontario comes up with a marketing and listing strategy through its broker of record, CBRE. That’s when it shows up on the Infrastructure Ontario website.

“The true test of market value is allowing the property to be on the market for an exposure period,” Cimino said. Typically that is 30 days but it can be extended.

“We leave them on the market as long as is reasonable and then, like any other prudent owner would do, remove them from the market because they’ve become stale,” he said.

There are relatively few properties on the Infrastructure Ontario site because most are in still being circulated in the government and undergoing due diligence including an appraised value, Cimino said.

Not every listing gets snapped up. Some are challenging.

“There are properties we’ve had listed in some cases for a year or two years. They don’t sell. They are in remote areas of northern Ontario, they are landlocked, there’s some issue with them,” he said.

Sometimes remnants of land from a public project are just taken over by the municipality.

In other cases, some of the plots are large and might be attractive to a developer but often those locations also attract municipal interest.

“We need to be very cognizant of government priorities and initiatives like affordable housing, like long-term care,” Cimino said.

To get an idea of what is on the provincial list of 243 surplus properties, the Star asked about a handful of the 20 Toronto listings. None of them, as it turns out, is listed on the Infrastructure Ontario website for sale.

305 Bremner Ave.

One and a half acres of vacant land serving as a surface bus parking lot for Rogers Centre events under a parking management agreement. Infrastructure Ontario is currently conducting due diligence with the expectation it will be listed on the market in 2019.

George Appleton Way

A treelined area on the northeast corner of Keele St. and the off-ramp from Highway 401.
A treelined area on the northeast corner of Keele St. and the off-ramp from Highway 401.  (MOE DOIRON FOR THE TORONTO STAR)

Less than an acre of vacant, treed land on the northeast corner of Keele St. and Hwy. 401, north of the off-ramp. It is undevelopable land no longer needed by the Ministry of Transportation.

567 Arlington Ave. and 203 Ava Rd.

These houses sit south of Eglinton Ave., east of Oakwood Ave., and are part of land set aside for the former proposed Spadina Expressway Corridor. “They are high-demand residential lots with development potential in a desirable area,” according to the government. They will be listed on the open market.

Spadina Corridor Rear Residential Lands

Like Arlington and Ava, these 24 landlocked “remnants” were also reserved for the Spadina Expressway and make up less than an acre in total. They are owned by the province but under long-term lease to the city. The province says it is working with the city of Toronto to develop an approach by which the property can be sold.

West Donlands

A parking lot at 26 Eastern Ave., just one of the several blocks listed in the West Donlands by the province.
A parking lot at 26 Eastern Ave., just one of the several blocks listed in the West Donlands by the province.  (MOE DOIRON FOR THE TORONTO STAR)

There are several blocks listed in the West Donlands. The remaining provincially owned parcels in Corktown include a former warehouse on Trinity St. that was used as a paper mill; an irregularly shaped three-acre parcel being leased on Front St.; an acre at Front and Cherry Sts. that has been designated for long-term care and road widening; and 17 and 26 Eastern Ave., part of a strip of commercial and industrial buildings. Infrastructure Ontario says these properties are still being circulated in government to determine if there is interest in continued public use.

27 Grosvenor and 26 Grenville Sts.

A parking garage at 27 Grosvenor St.
A parking garage at 27 Grosvenor St.  (MOE DOIRON FOR THE TORONTO STAR)

The adjoining properties — a parking structure and a vacant, two-storey office — are sold conditionally to developers, Canadian Real Estate Investment Trust and Greenwin Inc., under a provincial affordable housing lands program. Infrastructure Ontario is still doing due diligence on the property.

Tess Kalinowski is a Toronto-based reporter covering real estate. Follow her on Twitter: @tesskalinowski

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Anglais

‘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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Anglais

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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Anglais

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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