At 88, billionaire Canadian-Israeli architect and developer David Azrieli is still active in a real-estate empire with assets in Israel, Canada and the United States.
His Azrieli Group Ltd., the most powerful mall holding group in Israel, recently raised about $670 million in the largest ever IPO of a private company on the Tel Aviv stock exchange.
In Montreal, his Canpro Investments Ltd. division is planning a 125,000-square-foot medical centre to revitalize its Decarie Square shopping centre in the city's west end.
Azrieli, who splits the year between his house in Westmount and a home north of Tel Aviv, sat down with The Gazette last week to promote his new Israeli stock -he's just announced plans for a three-per-cent dividend -and his current hunt for acquisitions.
After beginning to diversify over the last few years -he owns a five-per-cent share of Israel's largest bank, and the lion's share of a holding company with interests in everything from paint to wastewater treatment -Azrieli says he plans to return to his real-estate roots. Reporter Allison Lampert recently met with Azrieli for the following interview.
Q: Your property at Decarie Square has struggled over the years. What happened?
A: Decarie Square was developed by Steinberg's at that time, on the European/French concept of having a very large food store together with a very large department store. And that didn't take off in Canada. Then, when they built the Decarie Expressway, the property became partially isolated, cut off from the east and also cut off to the north with the railway station. So it's undergone, as you say, some very bad times and some better times. The occupancy is okay, but the rents are lower than what they should be.
We also feel that the size of it, which is more than 551,000 square feet, is too large for that location, which is why we decided to spin off about 125,000 square feet and make a medical centre. We'll have not only doctors, we'll have a huge drugstore, but also all the necessary labs.
Q: How confident are you that this will help revitalize Decarie Square? A: It will change the image, the atmosphere and the financial situation of the centre considerably. Q: Tell me about this IPO. You've raised $670 million, what are you going to do with the money?
A: The funds are being used right away in the development of five new projects that we are doing now in Israel. In addition, of course, we are looking for acquisitions. And those acquisitions are in our area of expertise, which is real estate. And we are looking for acquisitions in Israel, Canada and the United States.