By the time Barrie called in 2001, Flitton was ready to unload the lot-let someone else try and get past the council. After a few conversations with Barrie, however, Flitton became convinced that he knew zip about real estate development. "Here was some guy I knew nothing about, other than what I had read in the papers, calling me wanting to buy this land," says Flitton, who now works as Barrie's residential project manager. Flitton demanded to speak with someone-anyone-with experience. Barrie put him in touch with his lawyer, and negotiations began.
Barrie's bid got a boost from an unlikely source: the U.S. Department of Commerce. In August, 2001, the DoC imposed a 19.31% tariff on Canadian softwood lumber imports. Suddenly, the margins on WFP's lot of second-growth forest were significantly tighter, and the company agreed to sell it to Barrie for about $8 million. He had 60 days to come up with the money. "I had no partners, and I wasn't sure if the golf course would even work," he says. "But I'm a gambler, and I put up $300,000 (U.S.), non-refundable. I had to close the sale or lose the deposit."
Barrie began working the phones. His first equity partners were NHL goaltender Mike Vernon and Barrie's brother-in-law. Soon after, Allen Vandekerkhove, the former owner of the Payless Gas chain, floated Barrie $3 million. On Dec. 28, 2001, Barrie and WFP sealed the deal. Then the trouble began.
Barrie's vision for Bear Mountain is ambitious: an entire village carved into the mountainside, complete with restaurants, shops, hotels and a pretty town square. Lining the fairways of the world-class golf courses will be thousands of residences, from condos to estates. When Barrie started shopping around his plan, not many people believed he could pull it off. For one thing, Vancouver Island had never seen a development of this size. And besides, the guy behind it was a hockey jock with zero development experience. "We were skeptical," says Frank Bourree, a Victoria tourism consultant. "But Barrie has proven everyone wrong. His leadership and tenacity have driven the entire initiative. Bear Mountain has become a world-class facility."
Getting the project going has required muscle-but then, Barrie was never afraid of a fight.
Because Barrie's lot is sandwiched between Langford and Highlands, he needed zoning and building permits from both districts. Langford was no problem-the place is a property developer's heaven, with councillors who seemingly don't know how to say no. Bjola, a development consultant, came on board to draft a proposal for a housing development and golf course. By the spring of 2002, Langford had granted Barrie all the permits he needed.
Highlands, however, had no intention of playing along. Barrie was planning to build a second golf course, plus 100 residences on a 30-acre chunk up against the Langford border. His proposal, says conservationist Husband, "provided no buffer zone and went against everything the residents of the Highlands stand for."
With monthly carrying costs of $20,000, Barrie couldn't afford to wait on this "group of amateur politicians and environmental activists." With nary a permit in hand, he sent in chainsaws, excavators and skidders to start work on the golf course. "It sent a clear message," says Barrie. "This is big business, this is our partnership's land, and you guys had better pay attention."
Highlands wouldn't budge, so Barrie tightened the screws. His Plan B had always been to log the land if it didn't get rezoned. He'd already cut down $1.7 million worth of timber from the lot, selling about half of it back to WFP. "The worst-case scenario: I would have clear-cut the property," says Barrie. "It would have been a crime scene to do that, but it was all logged 80 years ago."
During a presentation to Highlands council in August, 2002, Barrie stated his intentions: "I'm the guy paying the bills here, and the interest clock is running on this. Let's be clear: Either we move ahead on this tonight or we don't. If we don't, okay. But the tree-cutting permits will be on your desk Monday morning."
The Highlands council relented, and Barrie got his rezoning.
Construction on the Langford part of the property, meanwhile, was well under way. Barrie's first move had been to start carving out the golf course. It was risky: Most developers presell the residential lots, then use the proceeds to finance the course. But getting the boot from the Royal Colwood still rankled-he wanted a place of his own where he could tee off. That meant raising almost $20 million. Barrie turned to former teammate Ray Whitney, then a left-winger with the Columbus Blue Jackets, for help.