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Monday, October 20, 2014

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Developer abandons offer to buy Ottawa shul

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Beth Shalom Synagogue [Michael Regenstreif/Ottawa Jewish Bulletin photo]

OTTAWA — Congregation Beth Shalom’s property in downtown Ottawa is back on the market after a local developer walked away from its offer to buy the shul building.

In late 2011, Claridge Homes made an offer to buy the 81,000-square-foot property for $15 million, with a possibility that the price could increase by up to $9 million pending permission from the city to increase the site’s density.

The agreement contained conditions. The synagogue, a member of the Canadian Council of Conservative Synagogues and Ottawa’s last major downtown shul, had 120 days after signing the agreement to waive its conditions, which it did.

Claridge had until last week to waive its conditions, but on the final day advised the shul that it would not proceed with the purchase. It didn’t give reasons for the move.

“I respect their decision not to proceed,” said Ian Sherman, Beth Shalom’s president. “They lived by the terms of the agreement. I am not aware that there were any issues, but for business reasons, they chose not to proceed.”

The downtown building, which had housed a Jewish community centre and various other Jewish communal offices in addition to the synagogue until a new suburban Jewish community campus was built in 1998, had in recent years been renting space to a number of charitable organizations. Many have already made other plans and have vacated, or are planning to vacate, the building.

That leaves the congregation in a position of being a landlord – which it was trying to avoid – but with fewer tenants and less income. The congregation of 350 families can’t afford to maintain the premises and the demographics of the community have changed as well, with most families moving to the suburbs, all of which prompted the decision to sell and move to another area of the city.

The plan remains the same, only the particulars and the time frame are back in flux.

“This property will be sold, and the shul will move. That is the bottom line,” Sherman said. “We had several interested parties alongside Claridge when we first put the property for sale, and we have had continued interest during the past year, because developers were aware of Claridge’s right to waive conditions,” he said.

“Since it has been announced [that Claridge would not be proceeding with the purchase], there has been a significant degree of interest from multiple parties, and I am very confident that something will get done.”

One of the options being explored is an amalgamation with Agudath Israel Congregation, a Conservative shul in the city’s west end. Talks, however, have not been successful.

“We have called a hiatus on these discussions for a variety of reasons, and I know that many congregants in both synagogues would like to see an amalgamation. It is my opinion that this is a continuing, desirable and favourable option for both shuls and for the community,” Sherman said.

 “I continue to stay in touch with Agudath Israel and certain of their representatives and am leaving the lines of communication open. For now, my priority is to work on negotiating the sale of our property.”

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