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By Tony Wong – Toronto Star
At the age of 42, Alex Shnaider has built the tallest residential tower in Canada — and the second tallest building in Toronto, after the CN Tower.
It is a noteworthy accomplishment. But perhaps even more so for a rookie developer who acquired the land in 2002, when he was just 34, and already the country’s youngest self made billionaire.
But Shnaider is a man of action, not words. And self praise does not come easily. Not even when you have owned your own Formula 1 team and soccer club. Or just happen to be the builder of the landmark Trump International Hotel & Tower in Toronto’s financial district.
“Well, I think it is very nice,” says Shaider of his new project.
The gross understatement brings a snort of laughter in the opulent hotel suite that Shnaider and his partner Val Levitan, president and CEO of Talon International Development are sitting in.
“Very nice? Alex likes to downplay everything. It is an incredible, huge accomplishment to get this built,” says the more animated Levitan. “This is a true trophy building.”
Certainly, the suite may not as be as nice as Shnaider’s 205 foot yacht that he is building (trading in his smaller 170 foot Benetti that he used to rent for $270,000 a week when he wasn’t using it) or his private Global Express jet, or the chauffeur driven $450,000 Maybach that he arrives to the interview in. Or the new home on the Bridle Path that he moved in just before Christmas.
But if you are looking for a hotel in Toronto, it doesn’t get much, well, nicer. Like Shnaider, the typical Trump customer lives large.
The 950 square foot one bedroom the partners are sitting in will rent for close to $1,000 a night. The largest suite, at 4,000 square feet will have 11 foot ceilings and decorated in furniture by Italian couture house Fendi. It will go for $20,000 per night, a record price for a room in Canada.
And then there are the condominiums above the hotel. Average asking prices for the suites are $1,650 per square foot. Shnaider has yet to move into his 8,000 square foot penthouse with the 20 foot high ceilings, valued at more than $20 million.
The Star got an exclusive interview with Shnaider and a sneak peak at the hotel before it is scheduled to open in late spring. Last Friday Shnaider was given an occupancy permit for the hotel. A milestone that has taken almost nine years.
“It is a landmark building. Something that the city can be proud of,” says the slightly more effusive developer later on. “This is now part of the landscape of the city, a vital part of the skyline, a building that you will see on postcards.”
The choice site at Adelaide and Bay streets is surrounded by the city’s bank towers. The hotel has 261rooms and suites. It also has a 18,000 square foot spa built over two floors.
The hotel is still in various stages of construction. The rooms are mostly completed, but the common areas still need significant work.
Surprisingly, there is no hint of the signature Trump brass and gold in sight. Instead, there is black marble, dark woods, in an elegant palette of cream and grey.
While the decor of the newly opened Ritz Carlton is awash in convention centre beige and burgundy, the sleeker Trump is the style winner.
“People always ask me where is the gold?” says Mickael Damelincourt, the general manager of the Trump hotel. “But the theme is champagne and caviar. This reflects the influence of the children. In a way this is more Ivanka than Donald Trump.”
There will of course, be fine dining. Sources say Todd Clarmo, the former executive chef at Bay Street stalwart Canoe will head the new restaurant at the Trump. The Oliver and Bonacini flagship restaurant and favourite of Bay Street expense account holders has lately been raided by the new influx of luxury hotels.
Joanne Chimenti, the general manager of Canoe and chef Tom Brodi have already decamped to Toca at the Ritz.
Meanwhile, superstar American Chef David Chang of Momofuku is opening two new restaurants at the new Shangri-La nearby.
Fashion insiders will get a the first peek of the new Trump on Thursday when the grand salon ballroom will make its debut for a much anticipated fashion show by Mark Fast and Mikhael Kale during Toronto fashion week.
After a dearth of five star hotels, Toronto now has a plethora of ultra-luxury lodgings.
A new Ritz Carlton opened on Wellington Street in the entertainment district in February. The Trump will open soon, followed by a new Shangri-La Hotel and a new Four Seasons hotel. Smaller boutique hotels such as the Thompson Toronto and a new Le Germain have also opened recently.
Analysts have said that the competition, while good for consumers, means potentially tough times ahead for new hotel operators. And there are continuing concerns over an oversupply of new condos on the market.
“I think Canada is still attractive to a lot of foreign wealth and prices will continue to go up,” says Shnaider. But he acknowledges that the road ahead will not be easy.
But getting this far has already been an accomplishment. The project has been the subject of skepticism from some in the real estate community, that it would never get built.
“If someone had told me it would take this long to build, I would never have believed them,” says Shnaider.
It has been a bumpy road. Shnaider’s property was originally supposed to be a Ritz Carlton when it was launched with much fanfare back in 2000.
But the Star revealed that the original developer had been convicted of bankruptcy fraud, which caused the Ritz to back out and eventually move to a new location near the entertainment district.
Shnaider’s Talon development eventually took control of the project. Trump is managing the hotel, but this is Shnaider’s money on the line, along with minority partner Levitan.
The Trump name has not been a guarantee of success. The American billionaire and star of TV’s The Apprentice has placed his name on everything from golf courses to vodka and mattresses.
In Chicago, the 92 storey Trump International Hotel & Tower still has almost one third of its units unsold after closing on units more than two years ago. And in Florida lenders foreclosed on the developer of the Trump Hollywood, where he had licensed his name. At the time only 22 of the tower’s 200 condos had been sold. It has since been bought by new investors.
So far the hotel rooms in the Toronto Trump are 85 per cent sold and the residences above the hotel are 60 per cent sold. And Shnaider says he has confidence that the project will sell out once buyers can see the bricks and mortar.
“When you are paying that much you want to be sure of what you’re getting,” says Shnaider.
One bright spot is that the Canadian economy continues to outperform the G-7, and hotel rates and occupancy levels have slowly been inching up from the depths of the recession.
Luckily, Shnaider has deep pockets. Canadian Business magazine ranks him as the 23rd richest man in Canada with a net worth of $2.06 billion, putting him ahead of players such as Michael Lazaridis and Jim Balsille of Research in Motion Ltd., and Gerry Schwartz and Heather Reisman of Onex Corp. and Indigo Books.
The Russian born Shnaider immigrated to Canada at the age of 13 where he went to high school at William Lyon Mackenzie and at York University.
He got his break trading steel when the Soviet Union started to decentralize. He has since divested himself out of the steel business, and branched into real estate, retail, transportation and agriculture across Europe and North America.
Closer to home he continues to invest in the hotel business. He recently purchased the landmark King Edward hotel along with a consortium of investors, of which he is the largest shareholder.
He has also owned a Formula 1 racing team, and a soccer club in Israel both of which he sold. His empire has become so vast, and he is on the road so often, that he has not visited the Trump property in more than a month, until this week.
Over the last few months a colder than normal winter has meant construction has been slower than hoped. But there has also been much to approve of.
Before the guests leave, Damelincourt’s staff are on hand to provide warm napkins and spritzers presented on a silver platter to guests so they can wash the soot of the day away before they leave the premises. It gives a hint of the five star service that has arrived, and harkens of things to come for the city.
Contact the Jeffrey Team for more information – 416−388−1960
Laurin & Natalie Jeffrey are Toronto Realtors with Century 21 Regal Realty.
They did not write these articles, they just reproduce them here for people
who are interested in Toronto real estate. They do not work for any builders.
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