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No price has been published for the sale of Victoria International Marina.CBRE

Canada’s only marina custom-built for superyachts, located in Victoria’s downtown harbour, opened four years ago, after some 30 years of planning and development-issue wrangling. The intent for the $35-million Victoria International Marina is to lure the superyacht business from the overburdened Mediterranean and Caribbean megayacht hubs to B.C.’s Inside Passage to Alaska.

Now the superyacht marina is for sale. The real estate company listing the unique property, CBRE, is the same company that sold another one-of-a-kind, supersized property, North Vancouver’s Grouse Mountain, a few years ago.

At CBRE, unique real estate, such as marinas and, on occasion, mountains, are termed “special-purpose properties” and are filed under “Other” on the website. Also included here are public buildings, golf courses, campgrounds, amusement parks and airports.

Zoos may be listed here, but what the niche-property shopper will not find is a trace of the reams of data and sector overviews that support the usual commercial real estate categories, such as retail, industrial and office buildings.

Special-purpose or limited-market properties are, in many cases, too unique for market research and analysis.

“That’s why they’re called ‘special,’ ” says Tony Quattrin, CBRE Canada’s vice-chairman, National Investment Team, who brokered Grouse Mountain, and is now part of the team that is selling Victoria International Marina.

“There’s only one Grouse Mountain in the world. We’ve sold marinas before,” he adds, “but they’re all very different.”

Grouse Mountain sold for $200-million in 2017 (it quietly changed hands again last year for an undisclosed amount).

With no comparables to support investment integrity of these special cases, Mr. Quattrin says “a more creative approach” is required to make the sale.

”It takes talent, and you really need to get inventive to do these properties justice.”

Mr. Quattrin and his team investigate all the fundamentals of the special-purpose property’s real estate – land, buildings, water, even air rights – and business (often with complexities that go far beyond the commercial broker’s traditional methodology) before “transforming that information into a strong narrative.”

Creating a compelling story is one of the keys to achieving maximum value for the owner, Mr. Quattrin says. The other is “broad distribution of that narrative.”

The digital brochure that tells the superyacht marina story would have been sent via CBRE’s marketing division to 500 offices that employ 100,000 people in 70 countries.

The story describes a yacht centre built to exacting standards by owners Community Marine Concepts Ltd., with 28 moorage slips for megayachts up to 53 metres long and two anchor buildings, one an upscale restaurant, the other luxury day-quarters for yachters. It outlines a concierge program that, among other diversions, guides golfers to the place where they can tee off from their yacht.

There is, however, one thing missing: the price tag.

“We don’t set a value,” Mr. Quattrin explains. For many unusual properties, “only the market can establish its worth. Investors determine the fair market value based on how they see the risk.”

Mr. Quattrin and the owners will set “price guidelines.” It’s also common that a non-disclosure form is signed before negotiation takes place.

Yet even those guidelines may be based on extraordinarily limited benchmarks. For the superyacht marina, the three valuation approaches considered acceptable by the Appraisal Institute of Canada, namely, the comparison approach, capitalization of income approach and the replacement-cost method – “are all unreliable,” Mr. Quattrin says.

One, no sales comparisons exist for a Canadian-based megayacht marina; indeed, few even exist in the world. Two, establishing a cap rate on a new business that’s been restricted by the pandemic for half its existence, is futile, says Craig Norris, chief executive officer of Community Marine Concepts.

Finally, the prospect of building another marina like it – “something of this magnitude on the waterfront, with all the hoops you have to jump through to secure a water lot lease and building permits and meet environmental codes – it’s almost unthinkable from an investment standpoint,” Mr. Norris says. “Once this is bought, there really will be no other.”

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Simcoe County’s Geneva Park is another unique property listed with no sale price.Colliers

Mark Lester, senior vice-president at Colliers International, has specialized in unique properties ever since he sold a Fiji island to Mel Gibson 16 years ago. In Ontario, Mr. Lester is currently selling the YMCA campground Geneva Park: 140 acres of prime waterfront land in Simcoe County, about 90-minutes north of Toronto. Again, a confidentiality agreement must be signed before price negotiation. “If you establish a price, you may compromise your value,” Mr. Lester says.

Like the superyacht marina, Geneva Park couldn’t be appraised. “An appraiser is mandated to deal only with objective metrics,” Mr. Lester says. With rare properties, value is primarily subjective (with scarcity itself playing a role in valuation).

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The sale of the YMCA’s Geneva Park property has been termed a strategic campaign.Colliers

The sale of a campground, even exceptional ones, can be uncomplicated. Todd’s RV and Camping – possibly the last large parcel on B.C.’s Okanagan Lake – was appraised and priced at $9.6-million at the end of December. It’s now under contract with a developer, says Mike Geddes, principal at global real estate company NAI. “Like all things real estate, it was first come, first served.”

The sale of 110-year-old Geneva Park, however, is anything but straightforward. Mr. Lester refers to the process not as a sale, but a “strategic campaign” to establish a future legacy for the cherished property.

He has teamed up with Collier’s Not-For-Profit Division to find a values-driven investor whose “creative proposal might include a joint venture or equity investment.”

For interested buyers, financing can be a hurdle. Off-the-beaten-path commercial properties don’t fit most banks’ lending criteria or they’ll require a higher down payment to offset the risk, Mr. Lester says.

“Credit unions that are mandated to support local economic development are an option. Another lender could be the Business Development Bank of Canada or a private lender, but that money tends to be more expensive.”

Mr. Quattrin says rare properties frequently attract high-net-worth investors, who are “very unique people, themselves.”

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