MONTREAL-An aquarium, man-made lakes and a 500,000-sf sports center are among the accoutrements planned for Lac Mirabel, a 1.9-million-sf retail/entertainment complex expected to produce 30 million visits upon opening in 2009. Gordon Group Holdings of Greenwich, CT and Canadian retail veteran Rubin Stahl say they will break ground on the long-anticipated, $400-million project next month after their partnership secured the Morgan Stanley Real Estate Equity Fund as financial backers.

The proponents have been working nearly five years to overcome cost, permitting and site challenges to advance the super-sized Lac Mirabel, which will be built on a 320-acre site alongside Autoroute 15 heading towards the Laurentian resort area. Likened in scope to the Alberta’s West Edmonton Mall–deemed the world’s largest shopping center–and the Mall of America in Minnesota, Lac Mirabel will be anchored by outdoor-gear outfitter Cabela’s in a 170,000-sf expanse.

There will also be a 100,000-sf Montreal Caldea Spa; 60,000-sf electric kart track; and KidTropolis, a 70,000-sf “indoor city” billed as an educational program that also serves to keep the younger set pre-occupied.

Both Gordon and Stahl are well schooled in large retail and entertainment construction initiatives, with Gordon Group having built the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas; Bridgemarket in New York City; and the Beverly Center in Los Angeles in tandem with Taubman Centers. Stahl, meanwhile, oversaw the West Edmonton Mall development prior to shifting his focus towards Lac Mirabel. US-based Morgan Stanley is a leading global financial services and advisory company whose clients have invested billions of dollars in commercial real estate properties and securities.

One lingering debate has been whether the northern Montreal region has the populace to support such a humongous commercial enterprise. For their part, Lac Mirabel’s developers claim a mix of locals and outsiders will provide the needed heft. Some 4.5 million people live within a 60-mile radius, and 180,000 vehicles drive past daily, says Gordon.

Also, approximately 14 million tourists come to Montreal each year, and that translates to $2.9 billion of buying power that Lac Mirabel hopes to align itself with as a matter of course. Hotel rooms and conference facilities are to be incorporated into the mixed-use footprint to encourage such interaction.

The developers are also proclaiming that Lac Mirabel will be an environmentally friendly center, with Gordon Group Chairman Sheldon Gordon stressing the importance of taking such a route. The commitment is underscored by a bid to be certified for the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standard, a feat Gordon says would make the project the first of its kind in North America to have been so designated.

Green-centric features will include the planting of grass on building roofs and installing skylights that can open to facilitate cooling in the summer and provide an airy, “outdoor feel.” The lakes will be used for seasonal activities, including winter skating and other events.

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