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Geoff Molson, owner of the Montreal Canadiens NHL hockey team. (Reuters)

Geoff Molson, owner of the Montreal Canadiens NHL hockey team.

(Reuters)

The Habs get in the condo business Add to ...

With all the gloomy talk about the NHL's hard-line opening position in the CBA talks, it's tempting to see this one as a make-work project for Montreal Canadiens business office types this fall - whatever the subtext, the Habs are now in the condo business.

Principal owner Geoff Molson was on hand for the announcement of a $175-million skyscraper that is to be built on what currently serves as the team's Centennial Plaza, it will have 500-odd units and at 48 storeys will be the tallest residential building on the island of Montreal when completed (although that distinction will probably only last a matter of months).

We asked Molson if he was getting into the real estate game because hockey wasn't exciting enough, and oh did he laugh!

Actually what he said was: "no."

And while these may be cuticle-chewing times for hockey fans and perhaps for some of the NHLPA negotiators - multiple reports have it the league wants major concessions - Molson said he has "every confidence" in commissioner Gary Bettman and remains optimistic that a deal can be struck between the owners and players to avoid a work stoppage this fall.

"You have to be optimistic, you have to have hope," he said.

Molson was a good distance short of keen to talk about the labour situation, but he did talk at length about the new business venture.

Like the Maple Leafs, the Habs are partnering with Cadillac-Fairview, which owns most of the land surrounding the Bell Centre, and there will be an Air Canada Centre feel to the new development, part of which will be perched over top of the arena (the building will have a king-sized CH logo on its uppermost floors).

Cadillac-Fairview is also building an office tower just to the east of the arena (told you they own most of the land) and with a mammoth hotel/condo tower going in directly across the street from the Bell Centre - on a lot currently used for squeezing extortionate parking rates out of concertgoers and hockey fans - the skyline in that part of downtown is about to get a whole lot taller and more cluttered.

With the cheapest units going for $250,000, the Habs are also clearly taking advantage of an opportunity to add revenues - Molson and his partners decided to join the partnership to protect the integrity of their building, yes, and also because there are boffo millions to be made, assuming the current glut of new condos eases by 2015.

The Habs are also going to be involved in a vast new sports bar on the new building's ground floor, which should also boost the coffers - who knows, it may even make enough to cover Brandon Prust's $2.5-million per.

There's already a fair lot of social media squawking about what fate will befall the commemorative bricks and statues that currently populate the area outside the northwest entrance to the rink, and while Molson was short of details on where the statues of Rocket, Le Gros Bill and Lafleur will be housed (along with the personalized souvenir bricks that thousands of punters shelled out for), he was adamant a new showcase will be found.

The team even took the trouble of producing a video message featuring the Flower himself, who assured everyone that the bricks and statues, which are going to be warehoused during the two-plus years it's going to take to erect the new tower, will have a dignified home again.

There's no reason to doubt that's true, although it would be nice if they'd had a spot set aside in the design, which it appears they don't. Thus, there will be plenty of grumbling that the team is trampling its heritage and cheapening its brand by flogging expensive apartments.

No one should be too surprised, this one's all about wringing maximum value per square foot - business, not sentiment.

Plus, it's not like the Habs have much choice, Cadillac-Fairview and Canderel Property Management were going to build the thing either way.

Follow on Twitter: @MrSeanGordon

 

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