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The Globe and Mail

Canadian-Israeli real estate billionaire Azrieli dies at 92

Israelis walk on a bridge outside the Azrieli Towers in Tel Aviv April 28, 2008.


Canadian-Israeli billionaire developer David Azrieli died Wednesday morning at the age of 92.

Mr. Azrieli, ranked the ninth-wealthiest Canadian by Forbes' billionaires list last year, was one of the first to build shopping malls in Israel.

He was also known as a generous philanthropist; his foundation, run by his daughter, Naomi, funds a variety of projects, including medical research, Jewish educational projects and the arts.

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Mr. Azrieli fought in Israel's War of Independence after surviving the Holocaust and fleeing to Palestine.

He stepped down as chairman of Tel Aviv-based Azrieli Group Ltd. last week and his daughter, Danna, was appointed acting chairwoman of the company, which is listed on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.

His signature building in Tel Aviv is the Azrieli Center, a complex of office towers and shopping areas.

In 1973, he was at the centre of a controversy over the razing of Montreal's historic Van Horne Mansion in the fabled Golden Square Mile on Sherbrooke Street West to make way for a 17-storey glass-sheathed office building that was later transformed into the Sofitel Hotel.

The Azrieli family is reported to have a net worth of $2.9-billion (U.S.).

"David was very sharp. He always loved to talk business," said Mitch Goldhar, owner of Toronto-based shopping-center developer SmartCentres.

"He had a good radar, predicting where things were going. He stepped up on many investments where others were going the other way."

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Mr. Azrieli's investments in Israel went well beyond business, said Mr. Goldhar.

"He was helping to build the country. As soon as he was really in a position, he went straight to development and building businesses there because of his passion for Israel."

Born in Poland in 1922 under the name of David Joshua Azrylewicz, he fled Nazi oppression in 1939 and later discovered that most of his family members had been killed in the Holocaust.

He moved to Canada from Israel in the mid-1950s and was granted Canadian citizenship in 1959.

He got his start as a developer in Canada by building duplex housing in Montreal, then moved on to downtown apartment buildings.

In Ontario, he was responsible for the Westdale Mall in Mississauga and the Bayfield Mall in Barrie.

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The Azrieli Group owns 13 shopping malls in Israel and major office complexes. Other investments are in such areas as the environment, energy and banking.

Montreal-based CanPro Investments Ltd. is Mr. Azrieli's privately held base for Canadian operations.

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