Shmuel Farhi solutions 7 questions on his imaginative and prescient for London, Ont.

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Shmuel Farhi is London, Ont. Most prominent landlord. His name is on buildings and billboards in the region. The landowner declined to be interviewed with CBC London but provided written explanations on seven questions.

The answers have been edited for brevity. CBC London has also reviewed some of the statements that can be seen at the bottom of this story.

1 / Why are some of your downtown commercial buildings empty? What is the vacancy rate for your inventory in the city center?

Farhi Holdings was a marquee investor and partner in central London. One of our most recent successes is the acquisition of twelve new tenants who employ around 2,200 Londoners in offices on or near Dundas Place, for example in the Bell building with parking spaces. In the last two years alone, we have increased our occupancy area by more than 300,000 square meters.

Unfortunately, buildings without a reserved parking space have a small chance of being considered by future tenants.

A few months ago we were approached by two real estate agents to inspect two potential tenants. One of them was looking for 45,000 square feet and needed 450 parking spaces, and another tenant needed 32,000 square feet with 250 parking spaces. Together they needed 680 reserved parking spaces.

Unfortunately, all of these historic buildings on Dundas Street were built decades ago without even thinking about parking.

The former public library in London on Queens Avenue is a historic building from 1939. Farhi Holdings Corporation bought it in 2005 outside the city. It has been empty since then. (Andrew Lupton / CBC)

Empty buildings are expensive. This is particularly difficult as we have invested a lot of money in the restoration and maintenance of these properties.

Since 2010 we have been talking to the city that if they really want to see a healthy inner city, we need a moratorium on office developments in the suburbs until we have a low vacancy rate in the inner city.

Unfortunately, I still speak to the city and in the meantime we have lost ten years and thousands of employees at our core to the outskirts.

2 / What is your plan for the three buildings at the intersection of Richmond and Dundas?

A corner of Dundas and Richmond Streets in London, Ontario. Farhi Holdings Corporation owns this property and two others in adjacent corners. All three buildings are empty. (Amanda Margison / CBC News)

Our brokers at Cushman & Wakefield, CBRE, and the team at Farhi Holdings Corporation (FHC) are working diligently to get tenants into these buildings and any other vacant buildings we have.

3 / What is your plan for the farmland you own?

To cultivate them and use the agricultural goods for our local restaurants.

4 / Some suggest that you are a land speculator who buys and holds real estate. How do you react

I am selling real estate. Below are some examples:

332-338 Richmond Street

This building became known as the Clifton Arms Hotel in 1878. We bought this building in 1986 when it was in disrepair and completed the extensive restoration work repositioning the property for 28 units.

I am excited to announce that with our support and a donation of over $ 1 million, we have given this building to Youth Opportunities Unlimited and it is now known as a cornerstone.

The current home of Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU) opened as the Clifton Arms Hotel in 1878. Farhi Holdings Corporation bought the building in 1986 when it was in disrepair. He sold to YOU ​​in 2007. (Shumel Farhi)

343-349 Richmond Street

This beautiful Grade II listed building has been extensively restored by adding loft apartments throughout the building. We made a sizeable $ 1.2 million donation to the worthy organization of Atlohsa Family Healing Services, which has owned the building for several years now.

(Kate Dubinski / CBC)

534 Queens Ave.

We sold this building to a company in Toronto in 2014.

197-199 Dundas Street

This building has been extensively upgraded inside and out. We did this job because we had two government tenants who signed a lease and wanted to move into this building.

We sold this building to a company in 2014. A few years later, both the provincial and federal governments left the premises.

As far as we know, they left for the same reasons that the city identified as problems in the core area action plan.

Atlohsa Family Healing Services is located at 343-349 Richmond Street in London, Ontario. (Amanda Margison / CBC News)

5 / If you are faced with the challenge of developing or finding tenants for some of your downtown properties – as you note on the files – would you be willing to work with the city to find solutions to make this possible? What could the city do differently to help downtown commercial developers like you?

We have and will continue to be interested in working with the city to find solutions.

The city should do all it can to encourage potential tenants to rent downtown property. Like us, we need the city to meet the needs of tenants.

6 / What do you like about London? Why are you continuing to invest here?

London is a very special place for me. Although I am an entrepreneur with many business interests across Ontario, London is very close to my heart. This is where I live, this is where my family lives, this is where I continue to raise my children and I have decided to set up my business office.

Central London has so many advantages, including beautiful parks, riverside, historic buildings and sites, sports and music venues, and award-winning bars and restaurants.

7 / Why not sell the historic London buildings that have been vacant for years (the former library at 305 Queens Ave., the Wright Lithographic building at 424 Wellington Street) and try someone else to develop them?

We have had several tenants interested in the library over the years. One of them, Citi Financial, needed several hundred parking spaces. The city was kind enough to help us with some parking for a price across the street from London Hydro but that was too far.

We had another interested party in 2007-08, but due to the financial and banking sector collapse in 2008, they put everything on hold.

In 2008/09, we proposed to the Renal Dialysis Satellite Clinic at the London Health Sciences Center that they should be placed in the old library (305 Queens) and 100 Dundas in the Bell Building. Unfortunately, they decided to settle in the Westmount Shopping Center.

Farhi Holdings Corporation sold this building just west of Clarence Ave. in 2014 to an undisclosed buyer. (Shmuel Farhi)

Regarding 424 Wellington Street (Wright Lithographic Building), we sent the city a proposal for affordable housing and they turned us down.

We also received a letter of interest from a financial institution and started preparations to make this building available to them. Unfortunately, this deal did not materialize.

Fact check

Meeting with city officials

Mayor Ed Holder met with Farhi once when he became an officer for the first time. Councilor Arielle Kayabaga, representative of the downtown community, also met once with FHC President Jim Bujouves. Gregg Barrett, the urban planner who started in January 2020, has not met with Farhi or one of his representatives since taking over as top planner, but with them in the past when he was working in the planning department. According to city officials, Farhi and his representatives have often objected to measures to build more office buildings in the suburbs, as such measures are preventing the inner city from flourishing.

Sales from 332-338 Richmond Street:

Farhi donated $ 1 million to Youth Opportunities Unlimited when he removed it from the $ 2.6 million purchase price. Steve Cordes, YOU executive director, says renovations were done in the 1980s but saw no evidence of heritage restoration. In the end, THEY renovated all three floors to suit their needs.

Sales from 343-349 Richmond Street:

Farhi Holdings Corporation has sold the Richmond Street building to Atlhosa. Thanks to this sale, this organization has indigenous support shelters. “Farhi really went for the idea of ​​a Housing Hub model. He’s been very supportive of our community,” said Raymond Deleary, Executive Director of Atlohsa.

What the core action plan said

The City of London identified homelessness, the need to feel safe and more people-centric than some issues that require attention in the inner city. In March 2021, the council adopted the Core Area Community Improvement Plan. It set funding for better security, the refurbishment of buildings for affordable housing and a commitment to prevent “the continued expansion of temporary parking spaces”.

Wright Lithographic Building as Affordable Housing:

In 2016, the City of London asked for affordable housing proposals. Farhi’s proposal for 424 Wellington was unsuccessful. Kevin Dickins, Acting General Manager of Housing, said other buildings have more units and are shovel-ready. Here are the projects that have been approved. Dickins adds that the town is thrilled. Farhi Holdings Corporation is showing increased interest in developing affordable housing.

Hospital moving a clinic to the old library

Farhi Holdings Company forwarded the London Health Science Center’s rejection letter to CBC, which was sent after the hospital issued a call for proposals. In 2008 the hospital was looking for a satellite location for the kidney dialysis unit. Two Farhi properties, 305 Queens Avenue and 100 Dundas Street, were not on the shortlist.