Making their mark in the Market

Businesswomen join forces to buy $3.4M York Street property

The two ByWard Market businesswomen had been talking about it for roughly nine years. They would run into each other in the York Street building where they were both tenants and, inevitably, it would come up.

“Oh man, wouldn’t it be great if we could buy this?” is how Kelly Brant – owner of gay nightclub The Lookout Bar, which is located on the stone and brick building’s second floor – remembers the conversation going.

Now she’s teamed with building co-tenant Kelly Anne Smith, who owns the United TESOL teachers’ training college on the fourth floor, and four other female investors to do exactly that.

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It’s an outcome that seemed, at one point, like it was never going to happen.

At $3.4 million, the purchase price is on the upper end of the scale when compared to sales of similar-sized mixed-use buildings in the ByWard Market in recent years. Furthermore, real estate in the ByWard Market is largely controlled by men and big organizations that hold the properties for generations, according to one broker involved in the deal.


Trying to buy a property in the ByWard Market isn’t as simple as seeing a “for sale” sign go up and making a bid, said Ms. Brant.

Demand is so high in the neighbourhood that one must know the telltale signs – such as chronically empty tables at a restaurant – of when people are preparing to sell.

Ms. Brant and Ms. Smith saw the sale of their property coming, though, as appraisers and people conducting insurance inspections made their way through the building.

But by the time the pair’s group got to the owner’s office, they were too late: Their landlord told them a tentative deal was already in place to sell the building.

The uphill climb of being women investors in a market surrounded by men then began to level out. When the original buyer fell through, the vendor – a numbered company headed by another woman entrepreneur – looked at them first.

“I think at the end of the day she wanted to see women be successful,” said Ms. Brant. “You know, like, ‘Why shouldn’t you two hard-working small business people … have this happen?’ That was huge. Without her we would not be owning this building.”

The next step was getting the financing in place – no small task for the pair, who had never been involved in purchasing commercial real estate before.

Initially, they didn’t have success with prospective financiers. Those potential investors wanted to own the building themselves, rather than be part of a partnership with two of the building’s tenants.

Eventually they were able to get the financing together with the help of four other women investors and the final offer was accepted in June of last year. The transaction closed last month.

“We couldn’t have done it without each other, everybody in the investment group,” said Ms. Smith. “This only worked because we all needed each other.”

SIDEBAR: The building

What: Four-storey ByWard Market building (plus basement) on a 33-foot by 101-foot lot.

Where: 39-41 York St., Ottawa

Closed: Dec. 6, 2012

Who: Kelly Brant, owner of The Lookout Bar; Kelly Anne Smith, owner of United TESOL International College of Teacher Training; four private investors

Purchase price: $3.4 million

Mortgage broker: CMLS Financial Ltd.

Adviser: Century 21 Explorer Realty Inc.

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