Interview with Canderel CEO Brett Miller on the Acquisition of Cominar REIT

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Canderel Real Estate Property Inc., a privately held, Quebec-based owner, manager and developer of real estate, has become a major player in the  province’s shopping centre scene after its purchase of Cominar Real Estate Investment Trust and its assets.

The purchase included 12 key retail properties totalling just over 4.8 million square feet.

Brett Miller

Brett Miller, CEO of Canderel, said that over the last five years Quebec’s economy has been strong.

“There’s strong disposable income in Quebec because the allocation of household spend to mortgage payments and the home is proportionally a little lower than the rest of Canada,” he said. “Salaries are pretty much on a par. Rent or mortgages is lower. It’s because of a lower cost of real estate. Even though it’s climbed a lot in recent years it’s still lower than a Vancouver or a Toronto.

“There’s an historic, long-term propensity of Quebecers to put money towards entertainment, retail, going out, restaurants, leisure as opposed to putting all the money into housing.

Centre Laval (Image: Tourisme Laval)

“Overall it’s a healthy consumer.”

The major retail assets to be owned by Canderel will include: Champlain Mall, Brossard, 710,000 square feet; Centre Laval, Laval, 700,000 square feet; Alexis Nihon Commercial Center, Montreal, 410,000 square feet; Gare Centrale, Montreal, 90,000 square feet; Centropolis, Laval, 110,000 square feet; Galeries Rive-Nord, Repentigny, 550,000 square feet; Promenades Beauport, Quebec City, 600,000 square feet; Halles Fleur de Lys, Quebec City, 105,000 square feet; Centre Rockland, Montreal, 630,000 square feet; Montenach Mall, Beloeil, 370,000 square feet; Les Galeries de Hull, Hull, 285,000 square feet; and Quartier Laval, Laval, 265,000 square feet.

Miller said the retail assets are in key locations, connected to public transit and have potential for redevelopment.

“Those are longer term value impactors but at the most basic level Cominar has done a very good job in transforming the centres by bringing in groceries or new retailers from out of the country plus moving towards a higher balance of food and beverage by moving away from fashion,” said Miller. “In particular, I’d say Cominar has built a great relationship with a retailer out of France, Decathlon. The first Decathlon in Canada was built in Champlain Mall. That continued to grow in the relationship. They also built a Decathlon in Quebec City.

Image: Decathlon at Champlain Mall (Cominar)

“The second privileged relationship is with a local Quebec whole foods concept which is called Avril. It really understands the Quebec higher end grocery consumer . . . and is also doing exceptionally well. And now Cominar is home to three or four of those shopping centres. Those are big drivers in malls in terms of repositioning them.”

Miller said retail is going through a transformation these days with the increasing popularity of e-commerce and he said Cominar had started working on that transformation. 

“An example of such is that Cominar had a number of Sears big boxes that were converted into grocery, converted into sporting goods, and divided into smaller more service type retailers,” he said.

Miller said many major malls in Canada are looking to convert to mixed-use, higher density which in some cases is possible but in others it is not.

“The majority of all the Cominar malls due to their locations, which are very centred to their particular trading zones or neighbourhoods and their connectivity to public transport, they’re all highly, highly possible,” said Miller of the potential for redevelopment. 

Image: Gare Centrale, Montreal

“So I take an example like Champlain Mall. Montreal is opening shortly a light rail transit system that connects the South Shore to the town centre. A bus commute that was 25 minutes at the best of times and a car commute, which in traffic was 45 minutes, to eight minutes (by light rail transit) and Champlain Mall is right at the REM (Réseau express métropolitain) station as an example.

“All of these are opportunities to rework these malls and add, for the most part, residential, rental and condo, plus a component of other uses – seniors, office, flex. It was very attractive to us. That applies to Champlain, Centre Laval, Centropolis. It doesn’t apply to the two downtown retail centres which still can be densified but obviously a downtown property is not the same as a suburban mall.”

He called the Gare Centrale as the “jewel in the cake.”

“It’s the heart of Montreal. It’s the Grand Central Station and it hasn’t been touched in 30 years and it’s the confluence of every system coming into Montreal – subway, VIA rail, this new light rapid transit – and it also has development density of another 1.8 million square feet but that hub can transform Montreal. We’re incredibly excited about it,” said Miller. “It will be the heart of downtown from a consumer and pedestrian point of view. There’s all sorts of potential and opportunity.”

The Cominar deal is expected to close by the end of this month. At close the industrial portfolio will be sold to Blackstone and a portfolio of about 42 retail and office properties will be sold to Groupe Mach. Groupe Mach will take over about 10 retail centres in secondary and tertiary markets in Quebec.

The remaining assets of 82 properties that the Canderel Consortium will retain include retail and office properties, and development opportunities in Montreal, Ottawa and Québec City.

ROCKLAND CENTRE, PHOTO: COMINAR

“This transaction will provide significant benefits to key stakeholders, including tenants of Cominar, by leveraging the resources of the Canderel platform and a Québec-led group of investors with a long-term perspective to unlock opportunities for growth and development in the communities where Cominar operates,” said Miller.

At the time of the transaction, Cominar’s portfolio consisted of 310 office, retail and industrial properties, totalling 35.7 million square feet, located in the Montreal, Québec City and Ottawa areas.

The aggregate consideration to be paid implies an equity value and enterprise value for Cominar of approximately $2.2 billion and $5.7 billion, respectively.

“Other than certain non-strategic assets that may be sold, our investor consortium is taking a long-term view in acquiring the Cominar portfolio and expects to leverage the complementary development, operating and asset management expertise of our respective organizations to enhance the value of, and re-develop, these high-quality holdings, as we deploy additional capital into the Montreal, Québec City and Ottawa markets, where Cominar’s portfolio properties are located,” said Miller.

Canderel was founded over 46 years ago by Jonathan Wener and has since grown from its base in Montreal to seven offices across Canada. Canderel owns and manages a real estate portfolio of more than 27 million square feet in Canada’s seven major markets – Québec City, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. Its 650 real estate professionals have executed more than $15 billion in acquisitions, developments and management projects.

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Mario was named as a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert in 2024.

1 COMMENT

  1. I would love to see Central Station developed to its full potential as home to a striking office tower and adjoining condo, apartment, and hotel buildings. Look how the Hudson Yard project in NYC has succeeded there – completely different geographical impact and scale, but still a bigger draw for the old downtown area that the urban planner Vincent Ponte dreamed of back in the early 1970s. I cannot think of too many prime tenants, except for CN, VIA, Hydro Quebec.

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