Pity Eugene Melnyk. The naive Barbadian billionaire was just looking for a downtown venue in which to park his beloved Ottawa Senators when he bumbled into the incestuous snakepit that is the Ottawa development biz.
This, at least, is the sad story retailed in the putty-faced plutocrat’s $700M lawsuit against John Ruddy‘s Trinity Development Group, his erstwhile partner in the festering Rendezvous LeBreton fustercluck. The big-hearted, young-livered sports impresario sez he never had a chance:
“[Capital Sports Management Inc.] has no experience in large mixed-use land development. CSMI’s lack of expertise is what necessitated its partnership with an experienced developer like Ruddy and Trinity in the first place. It was this disparity in expertise, and the trust CSMI placed in its joint venture partner, that made CSMI vulnerable to Ruddy and Trinity’s machinations.”
Chief among these dirty dealings, Melnyk alleges, was Trinity’s moonlighting on 900 Albert, their upcoming mixed-use behemoth, next to LeBreton Flats. The much-expanded project is set to include 2,000 condos, enough, according to Melnyk’s hired beancounters at PwC, to soak up local demand and subsequently torpedo residential unit sales at LeBreton.
Melnyk says he learned of Trinity’s plans for 900 Albert (three towers of 65, 52 and 32 storeys; 1.95 million sq. ft.) at a meeting between Rendezvous LeBreton and National Capital Commission thingies in September 2017:
“Neither CSMI nor the NCC had previously been aware Trinity’s change of plans for 900 Albert. Upon learning of these plans, the NCC’s real estate expert and lead negotiator, Marco Zanetti, stated that ‘this will take the wind out of the sails of LeBreton’ but that ‘I guess you are all okay with it, since you are all here.’ CSMI was not okay with it.”
Also targeted in the lawsuit, Graham Bird, supremo of GBA Development and Project Management, and the ubiquitous Ottawa smoothie attached to most if not quite every major development in Ottawa in the past couple of decades (Canada Post HQ, Lansdowne Park, Ottawa Convention Centre, Royal Ottawa Booby Hatch, World Exchange Plaza, Ottawa Airport, and Winnipeg’s Canadian Museum of Izzy Rights):
“Bird has more than 30 years of experience in the development industry throughout Canada and is a long-time business collaborator with Ruddy and Trinity. At all material times, GBA and Bird (collectively, the “Bird Defendants”) were employed by Trinity as consultants on various development projects, including as consultants to the LeBreton Project at the 900 Albert Development.”
So essential was Bird to the LeBreton job that after Melnyk fired him from Rendezvous LeBreton partnership, the lawsuit claims, Trinity immediately rehired him to work for them alone.
Readers may recall Ruddy and Bird dream team from such private-public circle jerks as OESG’s Lansdowne Park redevelopment. Also deemed indispensable on that project, Bird wet his beak with a sole-sourced project management contract from the city, an earner worth some $2.8 million. City staff had concluded there simply was nobody else in Ottawa who could stickhandle the job, so why waste time with a competitive bid?
The city’s planning boss, John Moser, point man on Lansdowne, retired last year. He’s now a fun VP, Planning Management at….GBA Development and Project Management!
‘Twas always thus for the Birdman. Immaculately connected and handsome-for-Ottawa, long has he drifted, Zelig-like, through the cozy interstices of Ottawa real estate and politics.
Back in ’94, when the oleaginous Jose Perez, developer of Canada Post’s Riverside Drive HQ and the World Exchange Plaza, flamed out in a massive $270M bankruptcy and dozens of related fraud charges, Graham was there!
Perez, a generous benefactor to countless public servants, donated $36,000 to Jean Crouton‘s 1990 leadership campaign, paid over $500,000 in “consulting fees” to Liberal Senator Pierre De Bané, and $110,000 to a company owned Canada Post supremo Georges Clermont’s son John. All perfectly legit business, of course, and not in any way related to the $170M Canada Post project.
Amid a flurry of woofy transactions immediately preceding Perez’s bankruptcy filing, much to the dismay of creditors: transfers of the matrimonial home and Ferarri Testarossa to his secretary-cum-spouse, Diane Smith, the ownership of numerous companies switched to his family trust in Spain, other properties dealt to rellies and related companies, etc, etc.
Oh, and an outstanding loan of $209,916.87 to one Graham Bird, consultant, which somehow ended up erased from accounts receivable. Bird reportedly renovated his west-end house with the dough.
Melnyk says he got the full picture of Bird’s migrations at a meeting last June with the omnipresent fixer and dynastic Liberal shineboy Brendan McGuinty:
“McGuinty has been associated with Trinity in an unknown capacity (whether as an employee, consultant, lobbyist or advisor has never been made clear) since at least 2015. McGuinty also held several political positions. he held a role i the re-election campaign of Jim Watson, the current Mayor of Ottawa, acted as a special advisor to the former Premier of Ontario, and has been appointed to various other public positions.
“At the June 11, 2018 meeting with McGuinty and Bird, CSMI became aware that Trinity had held several meetings with the City without notifying CSMI. Specifically, Bird advised that he had attended meetings with the city’s planning department to further the municipal planning approval process on at least five occasions: April 25, May 1, May 15, May 30 and June 6, 2018. Neither Trinity nor the City gave notice to CSMI of those meetings…Even worse, Bird represented himself at those meetings to be acting on behalf of [Rendezvous LeBreton] and not just Trinity. CSMI was very disturbed by this deception and advised Bird that he not only had to notify CSMI of all meetings with the City but that he was not authorized to represent CSMI in any capacity…”
“On July 11, 2018, over the strenuous objections of the local council member and residents’ groups, Ottawa’s city council approved Trinity’s controversial plan to develop 900 Albert with unprecedented density and height. 900 Albert will contain the tallest building in Otatwa, at 65 storeys. Trinity and Ruddy were able to obtain this political coup through the efforts of McGuinty, who advocated for Trinity’s interests with the City and the mayor without being registered as a lobbyist, and Bird, a former Ottawa City Councillor.” (This last is at least true; Bird was alderthingy for Elmdale Ward, 1980-1985, and twice-failed PC candidate in Ottawa Centre).
Melnyk’s subsequent interventions with Mayor Jimbo to complain about his conniving partners went, er, less swimmingly:
“The mayor’s office responded with threats and intimidation. In particular, in a meeting dated September 20, 2018, Serge Arpin, the Chief of Staff to Mayor Watson, informed CSMI’s Chief Operating Officer that any attempt to withdraw from the LeBreton Project during the current election cycle (which was in progress at the time) would be viewed as a direct attack on the mayor’s political career and re-election effort. CSMI was warned that, if it withdrew, it would result in a ‘severing’ of any relationship between Mayor Watson and CSMI. CSMI interprested this as a thinly veiled threat that Mayor Watson would not only withdraw support for any new arena project, but would oppose any initiatives by Melnyk or CSMI for the duration of his mayoralty.”
“CSMI was not wrong to take this threat seriously, as Mayor Watson had previously favoured local developers over CSMI on at least two other occasions, and Arpin subsequently demonstrated inside knowledge of confidential information respecting the negotiations between CSMI and Trinity. Arpin did not receive this information from CSMI.”
Frank can not imagine why Watson and council would so consistently favour local boys like Ruddy and Bird over the widely-loved offshore owner of the Ottawa Senators, but campaign donations from the 2014 election may provide a hint.
Ruddy, wife Jennifer and Trinity gifted a total $10,750 to Watson and the usual suburban councillors (Harder, Monette, Tierney, Wilkinson, et. al.) Bird, his spouse Cynthia and company G. Bird Holdings donated $5,650.
Eugene? Er, $0.*
* Frank Footnote: Sens prez Cyril Leeder coughed up $1800 in donations, and Capital Sports & Entertainment Senators Hockey Club threw $300 at Coun. Peter Clark‘s unsuccessful re-election bid.