The Real Deal Chicago

Who is Triple Five Group? Canadian development giant betting big on Chicago with Vista Tower deal

The mega-mall developer has is entering the city’s real estate market with a bang, with a deal that could be worth $900M
By Dennis Lynch | October 08, 2018 09:05AM

Triple Five Group chairman Nader Ghermezian and renderings of Vista Tower (Credit: Vista Tower Chicago)

Before last month, Triple Five Group hadn’t made a blip on the Chicago development radar.

But that changed when news broke that the Edmonton, Canada-based firm is taking over Dalian Wanda’s stake in the Vista Tower project.

Wanda’s stake in the 98-story mixed-use project being developed with Magellan Development Group was valued at $900 million, and the deal with Triple Five would be the largest-ever such sale of any Chinese interest in Chicago real estate.

Triple Five is also buying Wanda’s One Beverly Hills condo and hotel project in Los Angeles, valued at $1.2 billion. Together with its deal for the Vista Tower, the L.A. deal suddenly gives Triple Five Group a high profile in two of the nation’s largest real estate markets.

So who’s behind the firm?

Triple Five was founded by the Ghermezian family, which still runs the business.

Jacob Ghermezian, who immigrated to Canada from Iran with his wife and four sons in the late 1950s, founded the company in 1972. Before Triple Five, Ghermezian was a rug merchant in Iran. He founded Triple Five’s predecessor company in the 1960s as part of an oil venture, which Triple Five is still involved with, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Ghermezian raised funds for his first retail development —the West Edmonton Mall — through a series of land deals.

A decade later, in 1992, he opened Triple Five’s most famous retail development, the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Today, Jacob’s grandson Don Ghermezian, is CEO of Triple Five. His son, Nader Ghermezian, is chairman. While Triple Five has its hands in a number of businesses, including financial advisory in Canada, retail development remains its bread and butter.

Its two largest recent projects are mega-malls: the American Dream Meadowlands in New Jersey, and the American Dream Miami in Florida. Both have been hotly debated and are sprawling mixed-use entertainment complexes that will feature them parks, indoor ski slopes and other offerings.

American Dream Meadowlands has started and stalled over the last 16 years, and when complete will cost around $5 billion, according to published reports. Triple Five secured $1.2 billion in tax-exempt bonds and a $1.6 billion private construction loan for the project last year.

It’s now scheduled to open in April, a target date that has been met with skepticism. Nearly half of the 3.2-million-square-foot development is dedicated to entertainment. It’s most notable amenity? A 16-story-tall indoor ski slope.

American Dream Miami, which Triple Five proposed in 2015, is slated to be 6.2 million square feet — making it the largest mall in the country — and cost $4 billion. The Miami-Dade County Commission gave final approval in May. The project will take up 174 acres, include 2,000 hotel rooms, another 16-story ski slope, a 20-slide waterpark, and a 14-screen 3D movie theater, among other entertainment facilities.

While Triple Five has stated it will not need public money for the Miami project, it remains unclear if the company will continue to develop it using only private funds.

Triple Five could not be reached for comment.

John O’Brien contributed to this report.