A man who has been a top executive for two of Vancouver's biggest development companies has been hired by local First Nations to run the corporation they created to manage their huge land holdings in the region.
David Negrin, the president of Aquilini Development and Construction Inc., has been named as the new CEO of the MST Development Corporation, the entity formed by the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh to manage the billion dollars' worth of land that they own.
The news of Mr. Negrin's hiring has generated significant interest among those in the real-estate community.
They see it as a sign that First Nations will now be playing a strong role in the development of that land instead of just being a quiet partner behind a private developer or with Canada Lands Corporation, the federal agency that co-owns with the MST the Jericho Lands on Vancouver's west side and the Heather Lands, in the centre.
"This is very good news [for the First Nations]," said Jon Stovell, the current president of the region's Urban Development Institute. "The First Nations groups have been having some difficulty finding a fit with conventional business world and their own expectations. Having a real seasoned professional will assist them."
He also said that they're such a significant landholder in the region that "anything that improves communications is good."
The Squamish, the largest band and the one with the most complex multi-party governance structure, have had other developers try to partner with them on deals over the years but those partnerships have foundered.
Mr. Stovell said Mr. Negrin's hiring won't solve all problems.
"It would be naive to think some of the complexities of dealing with First Nations will go away."
Mr. Negrin has worked in development for more than 30 years. During his nine years with the Aquilini family, the company forged strong relationships with several First Nations groups in the region, to the envy of some of other developers. Aquilini partnered with both the Tsawwassen First Nation in Delta and the Tsleil-Waututh on the North Shore to build large residential projects.
With the Tsleil-Waututh, the band provided the land while Aquilini provided the money and did the actual building, with the band getting 60 per cent of the profits, according to previous accounts.
Mr. Negrin has also worked with First Nations groups in the north on pipeline negotiations the last several years.
Prior to working at Aquilini, Mr. Negrin was the vice-president for development at Concord Pacific, the company that has built much of the north shore of False Creek in downtown Vancouver.
A representative for the three First Nations said no one wanted to speak to the hiring.
But the posting for the position that went up months ago said that the new leader of the corporation "will play a lead role in working with the MST Nations to facilitate the road map for establishing MST-DC as a powerful and well respected First Nations property development corporation. Over time, MST-DC will become a key driver of growth, opportunities and well-being of the MST Nations members and the region as a whole."
Mr. Negrin, who is still working at Aquilini and won't start his new job until Dec. 1, did not respond to a request for an interview with The Globe and Mail.
Mr. Negrin's departure from Aquilini will be a big loss for that company, said many, even though residential development is only a small part of the family's empire that includes the Canucks, Rogers Arena, cranberry and blueberry farms, hotels and restaurants.
"It's now clear the successes they were having were probably David's accomplishments," said Mr. Stovell.