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OXFORD PROPERTIES HITS MILESTONE BIRTHDAY

Thursday, September 16, 2010

STEVE LADURANTAYE

Thursday marks the 50th anniversary of one of Canada's most persistent real estate companies - Oxford Properties Group Inc. It's a complicated corporate history, with many of the country's major players either owning, investing, selling or divesting stakes of the company over the past half century.

Humble beginnings

Oxford Leaseholds was started in 1960 in Edmonton by Don Love and John and George Poole, who founded PCL Construction. They decided there was a need for a medical clinic, and vowed to make it happen. "You're basically talking about a couple of guys with $100 on the table," said Blake Hutcheson, the current chief executive officer. Seven years and a few buildings later, Great-West Life, Confederation Life Insurance Co. and Canada Trust Co. became equity partners.

The big show

To reflect its growing desire to develop towers as well as operate them, it changed name to Oxford Development Group. It started the 1970s as a publicly traded company, with an offering on the Toronto Stock Exchange. With its assets surpassing $1-billion - large acquisitions included Y&R Properties portfolio and 25 shopping centres from Cambridge Leaseholds.

A new approach

A new decade, a new ownership structure as Oxford goes private in 1980 in a management-led leveraged buyout. To pay for the deal, it sold its shopping centres. The decade didn't pass quietly - with assets rising above $3-billion, it set up its headquarters in Toronto's Richmond-Adelaide Centre and sold its U.S. business to BCE Development Corp. Then it split in two - Oxford Properties Canada Ltd. put the company's real estate back in public hands, and Oxford Development Group stayed private and managed all the real estate.

A new approach, Version 2.0

Eight years later, the two companies merged and once again go public helped along by a $60-million investment from a Hong Kong investor. It launched a real-estate-investment bender of epic proportions - buying entire portfolios from Marathon, Greiner-Pacaud, Hammerson Canada, Royal Bank and Canderel Group.

Modern approach

While all this was going on, the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System's real estate branch was accumulating shares. OMERS took Oxford private in 2001. Now, with $16-billion in assets the company is looking to further expand into the Northeastern United States and London.