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Canadian megamall developer's U.S. project on shaky ground due to pandemic –



VIP cocktail parties, DJs, dancers, fashion shows, balloons and much more — opening day at the Canadian-owned U.S. megamall called American Dream had been planned for maximum effect and excitement.

The project in New Jersey, just across the bridge from Manhattan, was nine years in the making, and patterned on the West Edmonton Mall and the Mall of America in Minneapolis, the other two well-known destinations owned by the wealthy Ghermezian family of Edmonton.

All three properties combine retail shops with amusement park attractions. The American Dream’s approximately three million square feet includes attractions like a DreamWorks water park, Angry Birds mini golf, Legoland and an indoor ski slope plus some 450 retailers such as Levi’s, Sephora, H&M and Zara. 

But, of course, the March 19 grand opening didn’t happen. A global pandemic happened instead. The venue was shut down March 16 along with all casinos, gyms, and movie theaters in the state. 

Now an October 1 reopening is planned, but it comes amid financial turmoil.

Mortgage not paid since March

All three of the Ghermezians’ entertainment/shopping venues have been linked together in a financial arrangement that shows signs of weakness. 

In order to help finance American Dream, the family’s company, Triple Five Group, mortgaged both West Edmonton Mall and Mall of America. According to Trepp LLP, a data company that tracks commercial mortgages, Triple Five has missed payments on the $1.4 billion US Mall of America loan since March. The status of finances at West Edmonton Mall aren’t clear. 

“The Ghermezians have a very complex business empire, and shopping centres are part of it, but it’s a privately owned company so we don’t have all the information,” says Nick Egelanian, a retail consultant in Annapolis, Maryland, who’s been watching Triple Five’s gamble closely. “But it looks like this situation could put all the properties into default.”

Both Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, the New York City-based investment firms that helped arrange construction loans for the Ghermezians, declined a CBC News request for comment. 

Lineups for ski hill

Members of the Ghermezian family aren’t talking either. They are “extremely busy” with the new October 1 grand opening plan for American Dream, according to a spokesperson. The venue’s chief creative officer, Ken Downing, is handling media interviews, and he insists all is well in hand.  

“The team is super-excited,” he said in an interview from Manhattan. “We’ve been wanting to reintroduce and reopen to the public, and we want to do it the right way.”

WATCH | Dianne Buckner tours American Dream megamall under construction in 2018:

Dianne Buckner reports on the latest massive project from the Ghermezian family 5:39

The launch of American Dream was planned to happen in stages, and a few of the attractions did indeed open in the fall of 2019. Retailers and the remainder of the theme park’s attractions had originally been intended to open with a bang in March. For now, admittance to the entire megamall is restricted to a quarter of its capacity due to COVID.

“I don’t think you’d be able to find many large projects like ours that haven’t been touched by COVID,” said Downing. 

He points to the sole attraction that reopened on September 1 this year, the indoor ski hill, and says people have been waiting in line as early as 8:00 a.m. with their skis and snowboards. “People love that ski slope,” said Downing. “It’s been as busy as it can be with 25 per cent capacity.”  

Snowboarders and skiers pictured at the grand opening of Big Snow last December. The attraction shut down in March due to the pandemic, and reopened on Sept. 1. (Seth Wenig/The Associated Press)

But even before the economic catastrophe of the pandemic, there was plenty of skepticism about the wisdom of opening the new mall amid a climate marked by multiple major retailers seeking bankruptcy protection or liquidating assets.  Besides, there are already more than enough malls in the state, according to Jeff Tittel of the New Jersey chapter of environmental group Sierra Club. He says there’s no way American Dream will solve the financial predicament for all three of the Ghermezians’ properties. 

Wrong place, wrong time

“People going to New York City want to go to the Radio City Music Hall or the Empire State Building,” he said. “They’re not going to get on a bus and come to New Jersey.”  

The Sierra Club has opposed American Dream from day one due to its impact on wetlands in the area. “It’s always been the wrong project in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Tittel.

But the Ghermezian family — whose patriarch arrived in Canada from Iran in the 1950s and built Triple Five along with a fortune in real estate development, with the help of his four sons and now grandsons — is not easily discouraged.

Don Ghermezian of Edmonton’s Triple Five Group, on site in 2018 at the construction of the American Dream megamall in New Jersey. The West Edmonton Mall, also owned by his family, has been used as collateral to help fund construction in a financial arrangement that now looks shaky due to COVID-19. (Jon Castell/CBC News)

In the late 1990s, they spent four years battling a lawsuit brought by the Alberta Treasury Board and emerged triumphant. And before West Edmonton Mall and Mall of America were built, there was doubt either of those venues would ever work. Both have been remarkably successful, ranked as top tourist attractions. 

The future of malls

Steve Rappaport, a New Jersey commercial real estate broker who specializes in retail leasing, says talk of malls being doomed is off-base.

“People love to congregate,” said Rappaport. “It’s always been about much more than shopping at a mall. They are places where people go to mall-walk in the morning, and teenagers go there after school just to hang out.”

The view of Manhattan from Triple Five Group’s offices in New Jersey, located next to American Dream. ( Jon Castell/CBC News)

He believes profitability at American Dream will be a struggle, but he says he has no doubt the Ghermezians will stay the course. “I don’t think that all of the sudden they’re going to say all is lost and just hand the keys back.”

There is, however, that matter of the mortgages. Late payments on an almost $1.4 billion loan are no small thing.

The managing director of Trepp LLP, Manus Clancy, says everything hinges on the lenders. 

“They have to assess does the borrower want the property, and do they have the financial ability to keep this thing going? Or are we better to take the property over and find a new team to run it?”

Some in the industry believe that only the Ghermezians have the experience to run unique destinations such as American Dream, West Edmonton Mall and Mall of America, with their distinctive mix of retail and theme park attractions.

Clancy isn’t convinced.

“We do have big players in the U.S., like Simon and Brookfield; they are operators of high-end malls in the U.S. So there are people that would be candidates,” he said, if the lenders lose confidence in Triple Five Group.

In Edmonton, the executive director of the Building Owners and Management Association, Percy Woods, has faith in the family. 

“They might have their PhD in dealing with financial situations,” he said. “They always come out OK. They’re very smart. And they’ve been very successful.” 

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COVID 19: Here's the list of Ottawa-area pharmacies that will offer free testing for asymptomatic people – Ottawa Citizen



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The Ontario government announced Wednesday it would expand COVID-19 testing to pharmacies, with as many as 60 pharmacies set to offer free testing to asymptomatic people beginning Friday.

Here are the 13 pharmacies in the Ottawa area that will offer testing by appointment to asymptomatic patients.

Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacies at:

1180 Walkley Road, Ottawa, ON, K1V 2M5, (613) 737-3344,

647 Earl Armstrong Road, Ottawa, ON, K1V 2G2, (613) 822-6746,

455 Bank Street, Ottawa, ON, K2P 1Y9, (613) 238-9041,

541 Montreal Road, Ottawa, ON, K1K 0V1, (613) 740-0616,

3940 Innes Road, Orléans, ON, K1W 1K9, (613) 834-7383,

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Shopify fires two 'rogue' employees following data breach – CTV News



Shopify Inc. says it has notified Canada’s privacy commissioner about a recent data breach it says was carried out by two “rogue” employees.

“In accordance with Canadian law, we promptly notified all affected merchants,” a spokeswoman for the company wrote in an email.

“We have subsequently provided information regarding the incident to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.”

Earlier Wednesday, the commissioner’s office said it hadn’t yet received a report about the breach.

“Our office is reaching out to Shopify, given the potential seriousness of the breach, to request more information about the matter,” Vito Pilieci, a senior communications adviser wrote in an email.

Under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, it is mandatory for companies to report breaches to the privacy commissioner’s office, “where it is reasonable to believe that the breach creates a real risk of significant harm to an individual,” Pilieci said.

Shopify spokeswoman Rebecca Feigelsohn said the two employees involved in the breach were fired.

On Tuesday, the Ottawa-based company first revealed on an online discussion board that it had identified two workers involved in illegitimately obtaining records connected to some of its merchants.

“We immediately terminated these individuals’ access to our Shopify network and referred the incident to law enforcement. We are currently working with the FBI and other international agencies in their investigation of these criminal acts,” the company said.

“While we do not have evidence of the data being utilized, we are in the early stages of the investigation and will be updating affected merchants as relevant.”

The customer data the employees were accessing was linked to fewer than 200 merchants, who Shopify has declined to identify but says have been notified.

The improperly accessed data includes basic contact information such as emails, names and addresses, as well as order details, such as what products and services were purchased.

Shopify said complete payment card numbers and other sensitive personal or financial information were not part of the breach and it has yet to find evidence that any of the data was used.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published September 23, 2020.

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Shopify says two support staff stole customer data from sellers – TechCrunch



Shopify has confirmed a data breach, in which two “rogue members” of its support team stole customer data from at least 100 merchants.

In a blog post, the online shopping site said that its investigation so far showed that the two employees, who have since been fired, were “engaged in a scheme to obtain customer transactional records of certain merchants.”

Shopify said it had referred the matter to the FBI.

The employees allegedly stole customer data, including names, postal addresses and order details, from “less than 200 merchants,” but financial data was unaffected.

Shopify said that it does not have any evidence to suggest that the data was used, but that it had notified affected merchants of the incident.

One merchant shared with TechCrunch a copy of Shopify’s email notification, which said the company first became aware of the breach on September 15, and that the two employees obtained data that was accessible using Shopify’s Orders API, which lets merchants process orders on behalf of their customers. The email also said that the last four digits of the customers’ payment card was taken in the incident.

Shopify did not say how many end customers were affected by the theft of data from merchants, but the email sent by Shopify contained the specific number of customer records taken in the breach. In this merchant’s case, more than 1.3 million customer records; over 4,900 were accessed.

A spokesperson for Shopify didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Just last month, Instacart admitted two of its third-party support staff improperly accessed the information for shoppers who deliver grocery orders to customers.

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