Burnaby legion’s redevelopment dreams delayed

Beedie Development Group chosen to pick up where embattled Epta left off

A North Burnaby Royal Canadian Legion faces another Remembrance Day without a home.  But the stalled resurrection of 4356 Hastings Street could finally come to fruition, thanks to a Burnaby developer.

Like many branches across Canada, Legion 148 grappled with an aging and declining membership, rising property taxes and competition spurred by relaxed liquor laws. It partnered with Epta Properties, which applied in 2014 to demolish the 1955 building and rezone the land for Centro, a five-storey, mixed-use project with 26 condos and a new, smaller legion.

Centro was supposed to be ready for occupancy in spring 2016, but the lot remains empty.

On February 28, according to the legion’s 148 Buzz newsletter, Epta executives Angelo and Chris Tsakumis came to deliver their apologies, but assured members the project would get built. They admitted financing was a challenge and lenders were apprehensive, but said the funds had finally been approved. They could not, however, offer a firm date for completion.

“They said that there were cost overruns on the two projects that they have been building in [Burnaby] Heights and admit that they have to tread softly and wanted to learn from their mistakes and challenges, as they are determined that the legion building will not fail and will be profitable for us and them,” the newsletter said.

Fast-forward almost six months to October 23 when a special general meeting was called by the branch to consider three options. One, let Epta continue with a two-year timeline and a $30,000-a-month late penalty clause, and face the risk that Epta would fail to finish. Two, demand payment, prepare to sue Epta and face the sale of the land to service the debt. Or three, bring Beedie Development Group in to redesign and complete the project. Any profits over 15% would be split evenly.

Shelley Coburn, the branch advisory operations co-ordinator for the legion’s B.C. and Yukon Command, said members voted for the third option.

Beedie declined to comment. Angelo Tsakumis, Epta’s vice-president of development, told BIV the company would not comment until consulting its lawyer.

Court filings show that Epta has had a rocky year, struggling despite operating in the continent’s hottest real estate market.

Epta and its associated company, Apollo Group Management, directors Bill Tsakumis and sons Angelo, Chris and Alex, were named as defendants in a September 30-filed BC Supreme Court lawsuit. Plaintiffs Beta Properties and SMB Holdings Ltd, allege breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and unjust enrichment related to unauthorized loans from various developments, including Centro.

In July 2015, Apollo, which owns a Barnston Island cranberry farm, filed a notice of intention to file a proposal under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. Trustee FTI Consulting’s August 14, 2015, report to BC Supreme Court said Apollo had advanced almost $6 million “to related parties, with the majority of the advances made to Epta Properties.” Apollo defaulted on loans from Farm Credit Canada and sought approval for its sale to D.B. Barnston.

The command has an in-house development company that offers branch executives access to lawyers and development experts.

“Going forward, the new era of the legion is to have good property developments and have deals that are good for the legion and the longevity of the legion,” Coburn said. “Typically, that’s not what’s always happened, so we’re working closer with our branches to ensure they get the supports that they need so they can carry on into the future.”

Coburn pointed to the recent deal between developers and Whalley Legion Branch 229 to build the Legion Veterans Village as a model for modernizing the 1926-established legion. The project is to provide affordable housing for veterans, first responders and seniors; and a clinic specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder rehabilitation.