Sports themed condos score with Canadian fans
TAMSIN MCMAHON – REAL ESTATE REPORTER
The Globe and Mail
Published Sunday, Apr. 26, 2015 5:16PM EDT
As die-hard Montreal Canadiens fans, Lina Cosentini and her husband, Peter, own season tickets, time their winter vacation to coincide with Canadiens games in Florida and watch games at home on arena seats salvaged from the old Montreal Forum. So when Ms. Cosentini’s brother-in-law mentioned there was a Habs-themed condo project going up next to the Bell Centre in downtown Montreal, it didn’t take her long to decide she had to buy. “This is part of history,” Ms. Cosentini said. “I just had to be a part of it, especially because we love, love the Habs.”
The condo is part of a mixed-use development partnership between the Canadiens hockey club, builder Canderel Group of Companies and Cadillac Fairview Corp., the real estate arm of Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. Dubbed Tour Des Canadiens, it trades heavily on Montrealers’ passion for the storied NHL franchise. Canderel launched preconstruction sales at a private event for season ticket holders at centre ice of the Bell Centre. Habs legend Guy Lafleur signed on as the project’s spokesman and the builders wooed buyers with the promise of advanced access to game tickets, exclusive viewings of practice sessions and a private skate on the ice. In a city already saturated with condo projects, the Canadiens tie-in helped draw nearly 600 people to the builder’s two-day sales launch.
A project of that size could typically expect to take six or seven years to sell out in Montreal’s soft market, said Canderel’s vice-president of sales and marketing, Riz Dhanji, but Tour Des Canadiens sold out its 500 units in a matter of months and eventually added two extra floors. “They say in Montreal that the first religion is the Catholic church and then there’s the Canadiens,” Mr. Dhanji said. “At least 50 to 60 per cent of the sales process was due to the brand. A lot of people bought because they wanted to be close to the Canadiens.” As Canada’s condo market is starting to mature, several cities are seeing a wave of sports-themed condo projects as developers look to distinguish themselves amid a glut of new supply.
Some are jumping at the chance to tap into a wave of new downtown arena construction. Local sports franchises are likewise looking for new ways to exploit both their brands and their real estate holdings through mixed-use developments. In Edmonton, the Katz Group, run by billionaire Oilers’ owner Daryl Katz, is planning a massive downtown development complete with an arena, hotels, offices and two residential towers. Developer Urban Capital is building a condo project across from Winnipeg’s MTS Centre, home of the Jets.
Ottawa is reviving its CFL franchise, the RedBlacks, with the help of a new condo project being built by Minto Group Inc., whose executive chairman, Roger Greenberg, is a partner in RedBlacks owner Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group. The condo tower, set to be completed later this year, lured buyers with suites looking out over the end zone of the new TD Place stadium and a communal lounge built in the style of a private corporate box at a stadium. While the project also offered buyers suites with a picturesque view over the Rideau Canal, it was units with the stadium field views that sold out first, said Minto senior vice-president Brent Strachan. Sports-centred amenities helped the company drive sales among football fans at a time when Ottawa’s condo market is slowing.
“You can’t just go start a new condo project and expect it to sell out,” Mr. Strachan says. “If you have a great project in a great neighbourhood, it will do well. Where people see the value and they see the opportunity, the market is there.” When Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, was looking to expand its sports empire in the vacant space around Toronto’s Air Canada Centre a decade ago, sports stadiums were typically stand-alone buildings in neighbourhoods that were largely dead outside of game day, and Toronto city planners initially were against the idea of a mixed-use community so close to the arena. “At that time there wasn’t a lot of high-rise development” in the area, said Barry Fenton, CEO of Lanterra Developments, which partnered with MLSE and Cadillac Fairview to develop the site. “By having MLSE as our partners, there was an extra cachet to us being successful in the projects.”
The area eventually became Maple Leaf Square, a massive mixed-use community featuring condos, hotels, offices and retail space, along with a popular MLSE-owned sports bar. In Montreal, Tour Des Canadiens is largely modelled after Maple Leaf Square, including a plan by the Canadiens to open a flagship sports bar and retail shop. For Ms. Cosentini, who plans to use her 21st-floor one-bedroom unit as a weekend getaway, the project’s main allure is the chance to watch a live game and then be home in minutes to catch the highlights on TV. Or perhaps even catch a glimpse of her hockey idols in the flesh. “Maybe Guy LaFleur will be living next door and I can borrow a cup of flour every once in a while,” she said with a laugh.
More about Tour Des Canadiens Phase 1