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Aquilinis partner with First Nations in land deal

Jane Seyd / North Shore News

The Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam First Nations announced this week they have partnered with the developer Aquilini Investment Group in the purchase and development of Burnaby's Willingdon Lands.

"What I'm hoping to provide are economic benefits for the future," said Tsleil-Waututh Chief Maureen Thomas. "We're buying land that was originally ours to start with," she added.

"We don't want to miss these opportunities." Brennan Cook, spokesman for the Aquilini Investment Group, said, "We look at our partnerships with First Nations as very valuable."

So far there are no plans for the site, which includes 40 acres between Brentwood and Metrotown, directly adjacent to BCIT. "It's a prime site," said Cook.

"There's lots of opportunity." The province announced two weeks ago that the Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam had bought the property at Willingdon and Canada Way for $57.9 million, but didn't mention the involvement of the Aquilini Group at the time.

The property is among the land the province deemed "surplus" and decided to sell last year in an effort to balance the provincial budget, aiming to bring in approximately $500 million by the end of the 2014/2015 fiscal year.

The land deal was a direct sale, permitted under government policy that allows such sales to First Nations or partnerships in which First Nations have a controlling interest. The Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Aquilini Investment group are all now one-third owners in the partnership that owns the property. A deal involving the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish Nations to buy the province's Liquor Distribution Branch warehouse on East Broadway is still being finalized.

The Aquilini Group is not currently involved in that deal, although neither Cook nor Thomas ruled that out as a possibility.

"We don't own it," said Cook. "Would we like to? Yes. They're exploring their options." For at least the next three years, the province will continue to lease back both the Willingdon and Liquor Branch properties.

Both parcels of land will be owned fee simple (freehold) and will be subject to regular municipal zoning processes.

As part of the process of selling "surplus" lands, the province also recently paid $24 million to the three First Nations in an "accommodation agreement," under which they agreed to give up their land claims to 27 properties owned by the province in the Lower Mainland. Thomas said the Tsleil-Waututh used that money towards purchase of the Willingdon property.  

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