Farhi feathers his 'nest' in core

Mon, June 4, 2007

By NORMAN DE BONO, SUN MEDIA

London's most colourful developer has gone on a shopping spree, buying up more than 20 downtown properties in the last six months alone.

Shmuel Farhi puts the total value of his downtown property at more than $250 million.

He says it's all part of a master plan that's just begun.

"It is part of my strategy. The more I own, the more I control. The better for me," the outspoken Farhi says.

"I am not an investor who is looking at tomorrow or the next month, but 10 years from now. I am building a nest here, a massive plan over the next 10 to 20 years."

Most notable among his recent acquisitions are two parking lots north of the Dundas Street courthouse -- the largest pieces of vacant land available downtown at 100 Queens Ave. and on Fullarton Street immediately to the north.

"I envision, down the road, a government use there," says Farhi. "It's across from the river and the courthouse. It is prime real estate in the heart of the city."

Farhi paid $7.6 million for the 0.95 hectares of property he will continue to use as parking lots. Long term, he'd like to see municipal government development on the site.

That acquisition is the tip of the iceberg for what has been a busy 2007 for Farhi, who often is at odds with city hall over downtown parking.

He has snapped up the stately Wright Lithographing building at 424 Wellington St. and a parking lot at 75 King St., adjacent to the twin apartment towers being built on the site of the former Ridout Tavern.

Add to that a parking lot at 195 York St., just west of the Via Rail station, as well as buildings and property at 192 Central Ave., 551 Richmond St. and 179 Albert St.

"In the last six months, I have 23 new acquisitions just downtown and soon I will make it 25," he says.

"We have more than 1.5 million square feet and if you had to rebuild it, it would cost $250 million."

The recent deals make him the largest landlord in the downtown with more than 80 properties, including land and buildings, in the core, Farhi says.

He won't say how much he's spent on downtown land, dismissing totals as not important. He has a buy-and-hold philosophy, acquiring what he sees as quality real estate and holding it for the long term.

There's no doubt, says Peter Whatmore, vice-president for commercial real estate firm C.B. Richard Ellis, "he (Farhi) has been the most active buyer in the city's core for a long time."

City manager Jeff Fielding isn't bothered Farhi has bought so much downtown, but he says the city needs to work with him.

"In a city this size, it is typical to have one or two individuals with a strong interest in the downtown, with multiple holdings. But it means we have to maintain a working relationship," he says.

The father of three -- Ben, 17, Shehnee, 15, and Natan, 19 months -- Fahri jokes he'll hand down much of the property to his children to manage.

"His investment strategy is different. It is very long-term thinking, more of a European strategy and not North American," says London real estate broker George Kerhoulas. "If he is investing for his family, one thing is for sure, he sure loves his family.

"He is a very savvy guy. Never underestimate him."