Wealthy Canadian family is mystery owner of $250M AIG building

Francesco Bellini’s son teams up with Bushwack co-founder on 175 Water

Francesco Bellini with 175 Water Street
Francesco Bellini with 175 Water Street (City Realty, Getty, McGill University)

A Quebec businessman who founded one of Canada’s largest biotech companies is behind the mystery group that purchased the former AIG headquarters in Lower Manhattan for $252 million.

The buyer of the former insurance building at 175 Water Street was identified as the entity 99c LLC earlier this week by JLL, which brokered the sale of the 31-story office tower on behalf of the Vanbarton Group.

JLL’s press release identified Carlo Bellini as the co-founder of 99c LLC, but the brokerage declined to provide any information on his background.

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But sources told The Real Deal that Bellini is the son of Francesco Bellini, a famous Canadian entrepreneur with business ties to the United Kingdom. In the early 1980s the elder Bellini co-founded BioChem Pharma, which he and his partners sold for $4 billion in 2001 to U.K.-founded Shire plc. The company helped develop a revolutionary HIV-treatment drug, earning Bellini a venerable reputation in business and medical circles.

“He is a man, in many ways, with the Midas touch,” Mark Wainberg, the former director of the McGill University AIDS Centre and former president of the International AIDS Society, told Canda’s The Globe and Mail newspaper in 2003.

Bellini has two sons: Robert, who has taken over his father’s bio-tech interests, and Carlo, who handles the family’s real estate investments and other businesses, including a winery.

Carlo’s 99c entity is linked by New York state incorporation records to a handful of shell companies registered to Dawson Stellberger, a partner in the Brooklyn-based developer Bushwack Capital.

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Reached by phone, Stellberger confirmed he and Bellini are partners in 99c.

TRD reported in September that the buyer of 175 Water Street was Ken Dart, a plastics billionaire based in the Cayman Islands.

Sources said Dart was part of a group of high-net-worth investors Bellini and Stellberger raised funds from in the U.K., and that Dart was part of the investment group but dropped out after he was identified by the article.

Stellberger said he and Bellini have invested with Dart in the past, but that the secretive billionaire from the Dart Container family is not an investor in 99c.

It’s not clear what the new owners have planned for the nearly 685,000-square-foot Water Street property.

“When considering the challenges some commercial buildings are facing post-pandemic, we at 99c are looking for unique and sustainable ways to reinvent such spaces,” Bellini said in JLL’s press release.

Commercial Observer first reported 99c LLC as the buyer.

AIG used 175 Water Street as its headquarters for more than 20 years before selling it for $270 million in 2019 to Nathan Berman’s Metro Loft Management. The developer had planned to convert the top half of the tower into residential  but fell behind on his mortgage and the property fell into the hands of its mezzanine lender, Vanbarton.