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U de M cancelling real-estate deal with Catania

U de M cancelling real-estate deal with Catania

U de M cancelling real-estate deal with Catania

Université de Montréal bought the Mont-Jesus-Marie convent back in 2003. Plans to sell it to Catania Constructions, which planned luxury condos despite local opposition, are now on ice.

Photograph by: Marie-France Coallier , Gazette file photo

MONTREAL — The Université de Montréal is pulling the plug on a controversial $28-million real estate deal to sell a historic former mother house in Outremont to developer Groupe Frank Catania & Associates after a prolonged and problematic affiliation that dates back four years.

The project has long been plagued by opposition and a whiff of suspicion after the firm's head, Paolo Catania, was arrested last spring by Quebec's permanent anti-corruption squad on alleged charges of fraud, conspiracy and breach of trust.

Now, the university has decided there are just too many obstacles to complete the transaction, according to spokesperson Mathieu Filion.

The university released a statement Friday saying it wouldn't extend its deal with Catania, one of the largest developers in the province, past Dec. 31, noting the deal specified if the sale wasn't signed before that date the university has the right to cancel the offer to purchase.

It was good news for the coalition of professors and students that has been fighting the deal, led by professor Daniel Turp, who said he was pleased with U de M's decision — but also vowed to fight to preserve the educational vocation of the building and its historic character.

The deal has been saddled with problems and controversies, notably strong opposition to the developer's plan to use the former convent of the Congrégation des Saints Noms de Jésus et de Marie on Mount Royal Blvd. to build upscale condominiums.

The coalition has been urging the university to cancel the deal and initiated legal action to stop it, saying proper procedure wasn't followed. It is also appealing a judgment it lost that gave Catania the green light to proceed with plans to transform the building into 135 luxury condos.

In addition to that, it didn't help when Catania made headlines and, at the Charbonneau Commission hearings this fall, members of the Catania family were shown socializing with members of the Rizzuto clan at the headquarters of the Montreal mafia.

The deal with Catania was made in 2008, long before allegations surrounding the firm were made public, Filion has said, although as recently as October he still maintained the university was hoping to finalize the deal by December.

In 2003, the university acquired the building for $15 million, and invested about $20 million in renovations to convert it into laboratories for educational purposes.

But the university said it would cost about $140 million to renovate the entire building, so it agreed to sell it in 2008 to the highest bidder, which was Catania.


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