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Majority of LeBreton project equity comes from local investors, DCDLS Group says

Published on February 25 2016

Despite the high-profile involvement of two Montreal billionaires, more than half the equity interest in the Devcore Canderel DLS Group’s proposed redevelopment of LeBreton Flats will come from three partners from the Ottawa area.

Gatineau-based Devcore, William Sinclair, co-founder and former president of JDS Uniphase, and the Mierins family, which owns and operates eight car dealerships in the Ottawa area, are bankrolling “slightly over half” of the project, Sinclair said in an interview.

The team’s three partners from Montreal – Canderel Group, André Desmarais, co-CEO of Power Corp., and Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté – have less than half of the project’s equity interest, said Lisa Mierins, who manages Mierins Automotive Group with her brother, Arnie.

The revelation counters a widespread impression that the DCDLS Group is dominated by outside interests.

Sinclair, a mild-mannered man who usually avoids the spotlight, found that misperception “a little bit annoying.” For Lisa Mierens, it was “disappointing, because it was not true.”

Not that the Ottawa partners see anything wrong with the involvement of the wealthy Montrealers.

“These are world-class businessmen that have seen and travelled and worked in different environments and cities throughout the world,” said Arnie Mierins. “If anything, I would look at it as a positive, something we can embrace, having this type of knowledge brought into Ottawa.”

(By comparison, the “vast majority” of the development firms in the competing RendezVous LeBreton Group are from Ottawa, said project manager Graham Bird. “I’d say 90-plus per cent are from here, bringing their equity and business prowess to it.”

They include the two master developers, Senators Sports & Entertainment and Trinity Developments, and component developers Windmill, Brigil, Mattamy Homes, Morley Hoppner and the Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corp.)

Sinclair – who played a previously undisclosed role in forging the DCDLS team – became involved after he was approached by Canderel, one of the original proponents along with Devcore. The two companies were looking for partners for the LeBreton project.

Sinclair had a business and personal relationship with Canderel’s chairman and CEO, Jonathan Wener, with whom he’s gone fishing on several occasions.

Sinclair was immediately interested. “This is essentially a win-win project,” he said. “This can be a huge draw, a huge benefit to Ottawa. And it’s a potentially good investment.”

He subsequently recruited other team members, including Desmarais, Laliberté and the Mierins family, who he approached last June.

“He knew how passionate we were about Ottawa,” Lisa Mierins said. “We had a meeting of our family and we decided that, of course, we’d love to be a part of something like this.”

Through their auto dealerships, the Mierins family has been active in Ottawa since 1957, said Arnie Mierins. “This was something we felt very strongly about. There was that element of giving back to the community, but also in growing Ottawa a little bit.”

Sinclair, who has no real estate development background, said his role is largely to provide equity. At team meetings, he said, “I try to bring up the Ottawa perspective if it does tend to drift off a little bit.”

Equity investment is also the Mierins family’s main contribution, though the family is keen on the project’s proposed automotive museum. “That’s interesting for us, to have that come to fruition in Ottawa,” Lisa Mierins said. “That would be an amazing thing.”

The role of the two Montreal billionaires, said Sinclair, is both equity and expertise. “We’re trying to build something for everybody down there, and who knows more about entertainment than Guy Laliberté?”

If the National Capital Commission can’t find something it likes in the DCDLS or RendezVous LeBreton proposals, Sinclair said, that would be a “terrible outcome. It’s just going to sit there as wasteland again for another decade or 20 years.”

“We’ve addressed all of the issues that (the NCC) asked us to address,” said Lisa Mierins. “I’m confident one of the proposals will be picked, and we hope it’s ours.”

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