Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Asper family sells downtown office tower

May be Winnipeg's biggest transaction

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201 Portage (left) is home to several high-profile tenants.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

201 Portage (left) is home to several high-profile tenants. Photo Store

The Aspers are turning over the keys to Winnipeg's tallest office tower.

David, Gail and Leonard Asper have sold the 33-storey skyscraper known as 201 Portage to Harvard Developments and Greystone Managed Investments Inc.

Terms of the deal, which is expected to close within the next five weeks, have not been released, but one local source said the price tag was "probably north of $150 million."

The transaction also includes an empty lot at 416 Main St. and the adjoining parkade.

In a joint statement issued by their company, Asper Tower Inc., the three siblings said they were pleased with the outcome and wished Harvard and Greystone well.

'It's the best location in Winnipeg'

-- Joe Banfield

"We've worked hard to provide excellent tenant service and, through the development of our courtyard and video panel, to also play a meaningful role for public celebrations at Portage and Main," they said.

The trio first bought into what was then known as TD Centre and its adjacent land in 2003, when it joined with O&Y Real Estate Investment Trust in purchasing it for $69 million. The Aspers subsequently bought out O&Y's interest.

201 Portage is home to high-profile tenants such as RBC-Dominion Securities, MNP and Thompson Dorfman Sweatman.

Its vacancy rate is in the single digits, even after a couple of high-profile departures, notably Canwest Global Communications and Viterra, in the past couple of years.

The competition to buy the building would have been "fierce," said Joe Banfield, principal with Banfield Office Properties Group in Winnipeg.

"It's top-of-class real estate at Portage and Main. It's the best location in Winnipeg. (Harvard and Greystone) probably bought it for less than the replacement cost," he said.

Once the deal closes, Banfield said, he expects tenants will be hit with a rent increase, which will be good for the market.

"Quite frankly, that's overdue. The (tenants) that are at Portage and Main are there for a reason. The brokers, the bankers, the grain guys, the lawyers, they're not there because it's the cheapest real estate; they all want to be at that location," he said.

Arni Thorsteinson, president and CEO of Shelter Canadian Properties, said the deal is quite possibly the biggest real estate transaction in Winnipeg's history.

"It certainly is for an office building," he said.

Thorsteinson said there's no doubt the Aspers will make a healthy profit once the deal is finalized.

"It's a good time to sell. Real estate prices in Canada are at historically high levels because of low interest rates and a fairly bright outlook for the Canadian economy, especially in the West," he said.

A person close to the situation confirmed nothing will change in terms of the "billboard" atop the tower.

RBC has the right to have its "Leo" logo on the building as part of its lease and that won't change with new ownership.

Rosanne Hill Blaisdell, managing director of Harvard Buildings Inc., described the tower as an "iconic building on a marquis corner."

"We are very excited about acquiring it. This transaction provides Harvard an enhanced opportunity to be an important contributor to the Winnipeg business community and to play a meaningful role in the Winnipeg real estate market."

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 29, 2014 B5

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