June 6, 2011

Housing, Hockey and Charities

Paolo Aquilini, the multi-faceted owner of the Vancouver Canucks, is a property developer who has also built a close relationship with two charitable organizations.

BY TONY WHITNEY

Most experienced business people these days believe they can “multi-task” and handle varying roles with a certain amount of skill. But how about combining key management responsibilities in property development and real estate with ownership of a major league sports team and close involvement with two high-profile charity organizations?

Paolo Aquilini offers some assistance to a youngster learning to skate at Rogers Arena.

Combining these challenges is all part of an average day’s work for Paolo Aquilini, managing partner of the Aquilini Investment Group (AIG), begun more than 50 years ago by father Luigi. Paulo Aquilini is also founder of the Canucks Autism Network (CAN) and president of the Canucks for Kids Fund. He’s listed by the NHL as an alternate governor for the Canucks, which was acquired by the Aquilini brothers – Francesco, Roberto and Paolo – from American John McCaw in 2006. Few Vancouverites need reminding of the success the team has earned since the Aquilinis took control. The 2010/2011 season was sealed with a Presidents’ Trophy win as top team in the NHL – something the Canucks have never achieved in their 40-year history.

The hockey team and its impressive Rogers Arena certainly enjoy a very high profile, but it’s just part of an extensive family-run business, real estate and property development operation that’s widespread throughout Canada.

National real estate holdings include commercial and residential properties, office buildings and hotels, pizza franchises and golf courses. Also part of AIG is Golden Eagle Farms, one of North America’s largest cranberry and blueberry producers and a major hub of Fraser Valley agribusiness.

AIG has an extensive real estate and development portfolio, but Paolo Aquilini points to a project at Kingsway and Knight Street in Vancouver that stands out. “Among several highlights, the project I’m specifically proud of is King Edward Village, both for its design and for its positive economic impact on the surrounding area,” he says. Right now, he’s excited about the proposed development of the land around Rogers Arena. “With approximately one million square feet of development it will redefine the area around the arena with high mixed-use density which includes entertainment, commercial and residential components.”

He adds: “This will create a high-energy urban neighbourhood appealing to people who live and work in the downtown core.” Construction of this ambitious and imaginative project is expected to begin in the early spring of 2012 and it should transform a locale that at various times in its history has been far from an attractive place to make a home.

Paolo Aquilini has progressive views on how he feels the city should evolve in future years. “Our vision is the creation of large scale mixed-use neighbourhoods in Vancouver which would allow young families and first-time buyers affordable housing.” He believes this is an area that desperately needs to be addressed. “We want to give these families and first-time buyers every opportunity to live where they work and this will only happen with the cooperation of municipal and provincial governments,” he emphasized.

While the Canucks for Kids Fund is the team’s “signature charity,” the Canucks Autism Network (CAN) is especially important for Paolo since he and his wife Clara have a child with autism and thus know first-hand the challenges involved. One area of activity he’s proud of is the growth of the “We CAN Be Friends” elementary schools program, which teaches empathy and inclusion with autistic students and their classmates.

“CAN started the program in 2008 with one school and is currently active in 31 communities and 70 schools province-wide,” he points out. “CAN’s goal is to be in every community across the province.” In addition, the CAN Family Adventure Series is making strong progress. Says Aquilini: “This is a powerful program that allows families to join together in the community to participate in activities they would normally not have the opportunity to experience.”

Aquilini believes that support for charitable causes is an important issue for sports teams. “It’s paramount they are responsible members and stewards of the communities in which we live and work,” he says. “Professional sports teams are given a great opportunity to make a difference in the communities where they play – the players and the team can bring inspiration to communities in a unique and powerful way.”

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