It was "luck, nothing else but luck" that helped him turn a profit of more than $3-million in one month by buying and reselling surplus government land, Concord businessman John Di Poce said in a recent interview.
A month after ignoring repeated requests for an interview about the transaction, the reclusive developer made himself available last week for questions in the company of two lawyers at the Bay Street offices of Goodman & Carr.
He explained that he never intended to sell the 30-acre parcel he acquired from the federal government's Canada Lands Co. in November, 1997, but a series of coincidences leading to its rapid appreciation virtually forced him to do so.
Boasting that he "owned more land than you could ever dream about," the businessman said that he refused several offers for the Brampton property, which began streaming in shortly after Canada Lands accepted his offer to buy it in the summer of 1997.
But when an increasingly persistent real-estate broker made him an offer he couldn't refuse -- more than triple the price he had agreed to pay the government -- Mr. Di Poce changed his long-time policy about not selling land.
"The more I said no, the more the price went up," he explained.
"I just could not say no. I'm a businessman."
By the time he closed the $1.74-million deal in November, Mr. Di Poce said, he had an offer in hand from Customized Transportation Ltd., subsidiary of a Florida-based trucking firm, for $4.95-million.
A month later, he closed the deal with Customized.
The deal ran completely counter to his normal practice of buying land for residential use, Mr. Di Poce said. It was the first industrial land he had ever bought and the first unimproved parcel he had ever sold.
"I don't flip land. I don't sell land," he said. "I own more land than you could ever dream about. I build and I subdivide."
The little-known Mr. Di Poce is president of Alpa Lumber Inc., a large and diversified lumber and wood-products company. He is also active in many joint ventures involving land development and construction in the Toronto area.
"I'm in the building business. I sell houses," he said, adding, "I'm a private person and I don't want to have anything to do with anybody.
The government was having trouble selling the land, which is located directly north of DaimlerChrysler Canada's Bramalea assembly plant, and was happy to accept Mr. Di Poce's offer of $58,000 an acre, a spokesman for Canada Lands has said.
But almost immediately after the government accepted his offer, Mr. Di Poce said, he began fielding inquiries from brokers interested in acquiring the property. One, Robert Scott of Colliers MacCauley Nicholls, brought him an unsolicited offer from a numbered company for $80,000 an acre.
Mr. Di Poce refused to sell and advised the broker he wouldn't consider anything less than $100,000.
Two weeks after he turned away a second offer at $88,000 an acre, Mr. Di Poce received a signed offer from Customized Transportation for $4.5-million, equivalent to $150,000 an acre.
The day before he paid the government the balance of the $1.7-million purchase price on the land, Mr. Di Poce entered an agreement to sell it to the trucking company for $4.9-million, equivalent to $165,000 an acre.
Mr. Di Poce's luck was the result of the Florida firm's desperation, he said. The company had entered a competition to supply services to DaimlerChrysler and needed to find a location quickly. The Brampton land that had languished on the market suddenly became valuable.
The deal "was unusual because of the Americans," Mr. Di Poce said. Given the dollar exchange rate, he added, the land would have been cheap for them to acquire.
Mr. Di Poce said that he knows of Ontario Realty Corp. president Tony Miele from charitable events, but didn't deal with him on the Brampton deal. Mr. Miele was the Canada Lands manager in charge of land sales in Eastern Canada in 1997.
A spokesman at Customized Transportation Inc. in Jacksonville, Fla., confirmed that proximity to DaimlerChrysler was a factor in its decision to locate on North Park Drive, but he refused to comment further on the matter.
Vice-president Fred Griffiths, who said last month that the company had asked its lawyers to review the deal, did not respond to a request for an interview.