In recent news out of Sault Ste. Marie, beleaguered real estate developer Italo Ferrari publicly apologized after he likened the potential fencing-in of that city's former hospital property to a "concentration camp" during a council meeting. Ferrari has been at odds with the council over the pace of the redevelopment of the site and the state and security of the property itself.
See related from the SooToday archives in 2020: Look what Italo Ferrari is planning for our old hospital site (7 images)
And from November: Decrepit Sault hospital site featured in new YouTube video
Ferrari has Nipissing riding connections. Three notable real estate ventures in which Ferrari has been involved on a local level have featured the endorsement of current Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli, including one when Fedeli was mayor of North Bay.
The mid-December apology from Ferrari came following a statement from Sault Ste. Marie Mayor Matthew Shoemaker: "To use the atrocities of the holocaust in a debate over the proper maintenance standards of a decrepit building shows a complete lack of dignity. I’ve asked staff not to communicate with Mr. Ferrari or any representative of his unless and until an apology is provided by him.
"I understand, however, that there will be a need to deal with this company for compliance and property standards matters so unfortunately, communication by some departments will still be necessary."
Ferrari and a series of associated companies have had connections to multiple North Bay and area properties over the years, including the recently planned addictions centre on Lakeshore Drive, the for-profit Lady Isabelle long-term care project in Trout Creek, and, nearly 15 years ago, the redevelopment of the North Bay Mall.
In 2008, Ferrari was the face of MVD Properties Inc., the new owners of the North Bay Mall. He and Fedeli were even featured in a Northern Ontario Business article, championing the city's attitude toward outside investors. Ferrari, is described as the "Toronto developer, who picks up under-performing commercial properties, across Ontario, [and] ranks North Bay among his top developer-friendly municipalities."
According to the NOB piece, MVD Properties invested $10 million to redevelop the North Bay Mall and was the owner of record when the No Frills grocery store opened at the location.
"Ferrari likes the stability of North Bay's blue-collar economy," the article continues, "and says the municipal decision-makers and bureaucrats are very open, accessible, and prioritize the approvals process. He especially likes being able to deal directly with a mayor who appreciates new business."
“When we took over North Bay Mall it was almost empty and in desperate need of serious investment," Ferrari said in another 2008 report. "We believe that North Bay is an ideal marketplace for a mall facility and decided to re-invest heavily into the re-birth of the mall, and the West Ferris area of the city. This is an exciting day for North Bay — this mall will be the cornerstone of Lakeshore Drive and will spur further investment in the area."
Fedeli, North Bay's mayor at the time, backed the project. “When we came into office, there were 12 empty buildings on Lakeshore Drive and the Mall was all but abandoned. The owners of MVD Properties Inc. saw a diamond in the rough in North Bay, Lakeshore Drive, and especially the North Bay Mall. Their investment was a serious gamble."
Not all local outfits profited from business dealings with Ferrari's MVD Properties. In 2009, due to non-payment Venasse Construction received a $1.2-million judgment following a construction lien action against Ferrari's North Bay Mall company.
Based in Woodbridge, Ont., public documents show for years Ferrari's business moves have left a trail of numbered companies and court actions in his wake. A search of an Ontario business registry produces a flow chart of abandoned and active company names, often listing similar addresses in Vaughan, Ont. Ferrari has persevered in the face of multiple lawsuits and mortgage defaults and has maintained his lavish lifestyle throughout despite personal bankruptcy losses totalling in the millions.
In the documents submitted to the Sault Ste. Marie council by Ferrari, both Heritage Community Living at Lakeview Inc. and Leisure Meadows Community Living Inc. were listed as his holdings. A business registry search shows that both companies list an identical Vaughan address and the same phone number as Westroy Assets Management Inc., plus Westroy Homes and Wilsondale Assets Management Inc.
In recent dealings, Ferrari with Westroy Assets Management and frequent business partner Michael Anobile with his Berkshire Enterprises Inc. have used these active companies to continue building their real estate portfolios. Anobile is listed as an "investor and sole owner" of Berkshire Enterprises Inc., based in Concord, Ont.
The Berkshire website states all of its projects are managed by Westroy Assets Management Group and MBA & Associates Inc. and Anobile has been "actively working on numerous acquisitions," across the province "and currently in North Bay, Owen Sound, Sault Ste Marie, Thunder Bay and the Town of Powassan and surrounding regions."
Westroy lists the former Farquhar Chrysler building at 352 Lakeshore Dr. among its holdings although sources suggest Berkshire is the official owner of record. In February, a collaboration between the provincial government and Canadore College announced plans for the Northern Ontario Addiction Treatment Centre of Excellence. At the announcement in February, despite questions from the media, it was not made clear by stakeholders who owned the Lakeshore building.
The addiction treatment centre held its official groundbreaking in late November and Michael Tibollo, the associate minister of mental health and addictions joined MPP Fedeli at the media conference. Tibollo is also the MPP for Vaughan—Woodbridge, the same riding as many of Ferrari's business holdings.
Westroy "specializes in the development of strategic, regional mental health facilities and partnerships throughout Northern Ontario," reads the company website. "Currently, we are in the development stage of facilities in Owen Sound, North Bay, Timmins, Thunder Bay and Sudbury.
"As a multi-faceted, multi-versed asset ownership/management firm, we strive to provide efficient and streamlined services, while maintaining a dedication to improving the surrounding communities through positive and proactive development."
Operating under the Westroy umbrella at the former Lady Isabelle property, the company's subsidiary is now involved in the operation of a recently opened 49-bed seniors' transitional home on the site. Dynamic Health Management Inc., which is now operating the Trout Creek senior living facility in the old Lady Isabelle building that closed in 2017 is also listed at the same address as Westroy Assets Management and is featured on the Westroy website.
However, this facility should not be confused with the unfinished provincially-funded 96-bed long-term care home in Trout Creek for which Ferrari participated in an announcement with Fedeli. In March 2021, Ferrari, acting as manager of real estate developments for FAIM International took part in the Zoom call hosted by Fedeli and promised a state-of-the-art facility to be built in collaboration with community partners. Ferrari provided an 18-24 month timeline for the project's completion.
"We at FAIM International are excited to be a part of this program and look forward to bringing this exciting project, Trout Creek Senior Living to completion," Ferrari said at the time.
Attempts to contact Ferrari, Fedeli and Canadore College for their comments were not returned before publication time.
With files from David Helwig, James Hopkin, Ian Ross and Chris Dawson.