Aquilini group a part-owner of Willingdon lands

The Willingdon lands, site of the Maples Adolescent Treatment Centre, have been sold. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
The Willingdon lands, site of the Maples Adolescent Treatment Centre, have been sold.

Add the Aquilini Investment Group to the list of new owners of the Willingdon lands in Burnaby.

The Tsleil-Waututh and the Musqueam First Nations were announced late last month as the purchasers of the 16 hectare (40-acre) property at Willingdon and Canada Way, across from BCIT.

The sale is part of a move by the provincial government to sell off surplus land to help balance its budget. Despite the City of Burnaby's own attempts to purchase it, the First Nations were given first dibs on the property, which they bought for $57.9 million, its assessed market value.

Last week, the First Nations announced they are in a joint-partnership with the Aquilini group in the land's purchase and development, with each party owning one-third.

"It's still very, very, early days," said Brennan Cook, Aquilini group vice-president of acquisitions and development, of the plans for the property.

"We'll be working with the city to realize what their vision is. Hopefully we can do something that benefits everybody."

Offices and agencies such as the Burnaby Centre for Addictions and the Maples Adolescent Treatment Centre currently operate out of the property. The provincial government will continue to lease the land for three years to give it time to relocate the programs elsewhere.

Those leases are on a "substantial portion of the site," Cook said. "So nothing is going to be happening on the site immediately."

He said the Aquilini group has existing business relationships with both First Nations. It is currently in a partnership with the Tsleil-Waututh to develop 25 acres of their reserve lands in North Vancouver, while it has built homes and  a new community centre on the Musqueam reserve.

"When they approached us after the province had approached them, we looked at it and decided a partnership with those two nations would be a great thing to undertake," Cook said. "We're quite excited about it."

“We believe that by partnering with successful business people we can develop First Nation economic opportunities in the traditional territories of the Coast Salish,” said Musqueam Chief Wayne Sparrow.

The Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish First Nations signed a historic protocol agreement last month that sets out how they will share the benefits of land equally within their territories, said a press release.

“We are all family, our ancestors used to live on these lands together with no city lines or boundaries,” said Tsleil-Waututh Chief Maureen Thomas. “We will continue to work together to share our traditional territories and to ensure all our partners see the benefit of working together as one.”

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said he was aware the Aquilini group was a partner both before and after the Willingdon lands were purchased.

"At this point [the partnership is] a developer who will come in to work with the city and attempt to advance their proposal and attempt to make as much money as they can off the property … And we'll ensure that the goals of the city are met and the city achieves benefits out of that property."

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