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Winnipeg multifamily portfolio becomes a social enterprise

Winnipeg Foundation acquires 27 properties estimated at $500 million

A portfolio of 27 residential and commercial properties in Winnipeg has been bequeathed to the Winnipeg Foundation by the late Miriam Bergen.

Ownership of Bergen’s company, Appleton Holdings Ltd., is being transferred to the Winnipeg Foundation as part of the arrangement. The company will continue under its operating name, Edison Properties, but profits will support the work of the Winnipeg Foundation, which distributed $84.9 million to community organizations in 2021.

“[The] gift will be part of our ‘unrestricted’ community fund,” the foundation said in a statement. “This fund gives the foundation the flexibility to respond to the most pressing community needs.”

An endowed public foundation established in 1921, the Winnipeg Foundation pools and invests donations and distributes a portion of the earnings to the community each year. The acquistion of the Appleton portfolio ranks as the largest single charitable gift ever in Canada by an individual.

Bergen died unexpectedly in January at the age of 66. She previously worked with the foundation to establish the Robert L. Simpson Memorial Scholarship Fund in memory of a former Appleton vice-president. While she made initial inquiries several years ago regarding potential options, it wasn’t until executors contacted the Winnipeg Foundation this spring that her plans became known.

Frank Koch-Schulte, who succeeded Bergen as president of Edison Properties, says exact details of the arrangement are being worked out. However, he’s encouraged by the attitude and approach of the Winnipeg Foundation, whose values are closely aligned with Appleton’s.

“I feel there’s a good mesh of values between the Winnipeg Foundation and Appleton,” he said. “I am getting comfort from the Winnipeg Foundation’s values that they would be in line with ours, to make sure our buildings are being maintained and taking care of while still providing value [to tenants].”

The transition of Appleton’s ownership to the Winnipeg Foundation will take up to a year.

Edison is one of the larger residential landlords in the city, with more than 5,000 units. It also manages a small volume of commercial space – less than 500,000 square feet – much of it retail space serving residents of its properties.

Bergen Gardens, a six-storey mass-timber apartment tower offering 149 assisted living suites for seniors, is scheduled to complete this month.

Koch-Schulte says it could be a model for future developments under the foundation’s ownership.

“[Bergen Gardens] is a natural progression for us because lot of our demographic has been seniors, and some of them have had to move onto seniors care facilities,” he said. “The hope is that the services that are being provided there can be spun off to existing properties to better facilitate current residents.”

There is also the potential for new developments that provide value to tenants across the rental market.

“The alignment of their values, their purpose, and our ability, particularly coupled with a need for a real solution for affordable housing, I feel there are a lot of synergies that could be picked up,” he said of the potential for multifamily projects as part of the foundation.

For now, however, no new projects are planned. The focus is on navigating the transition of ownership, which should complete by the end of 2023.