They are still trying to select a formal name for themselves. But for now, the 25 mostly Toronto-based entrepreneurs are simply a group of accomplished friends on the verge of participating in a risky, trailblazing and potentially lucrative $1-billion development in the Soviet Union. Mobilized by American industrialist Cyrus Eaton and the wiry Toronto real estate developer Edwin (Eddy) Cogan, 55, whose father immigrated from Kiev in 1919, the members include such disparate figures as film-maker Norman Jewison, Brascan Ltd. president Trevor Eyton and Ken Taylor, Canada’s former ambassador to Iran, who helped rescue American diplomats during the 1979 U.S. hostage crisis. They say that they now want to help a country that is struggling for economic freedom. Said Cogan, president of the family-owned Cogan Corp.: “What we are is 25 guys—all superstars, adventurers—who want to demonstrate to the Russians that profit is not a dirty word.”
The members of the group simply call themselves advisers. But they acknowledge as well that they were attracted by the tantalizing opportunity for potential profits on the Russian frontier. They are offering their expertise in everything from sewers and film studios to real estate financing. Eventually, there could be rich hotel-building and operating contracts for such participants as Isadore Sharp, president of Four Seasons Hotels Inc., who continues to expand his chain of 22 inns to more exotic locations. Another member, John Bitove, president of Bitove Corp., who runs the food services at Toronto’s SkyDome stadium and is involved in other joint ventures with Cogan, may find a food-service opportunity in a country where basic foodstuffs are often in short supply. And there may well be a demand for the talents of many in the group, which includes Joseph Rotman, a successful oil and gas entrepreneur and merchant banker, who heads the Roy-L Group of Companies, developer Samuel Young, lawyer and businessman Lionel Schipper, and real estate executives Benjamin Swirsky, Jim Bullock and Gerald Shear.
Faith: The publicity-shy Cogan insists that he is not the leader of the team of so-called advisers. But the members are either his business associates or friends. Several, including developer Marco Muzzo and sewer contractor Alfred DeGasparis, say that they have joined with little knowledge of the proposed development but have faith in Cogan, who has built a personal fortune by selling more than $10 billion in real estate in the 1980s.
Cogan’s magnetism stems from a combination of no-nonsense deal-making and lavish generosity. When his friend Eyton formed a consortium of corporations to help privately
fund the SkyDome with $5-million contributions, 24 corporations and one individual, Cogan, came forward. Two months ago, Cogan threw a party for an executive secretary who had been with him for 25 years and presented
her with a white Chrysler LeBaron convertible. “He is overly generous,” said Jerry Shefsky, a former partner.
Cogan has known hard times himself. A highschool dropout, Cogan learned the rudiments of the land business while working as a highway surveyor in Ontario. From that job he moved into land assembly, buying agricultural land that could be rezoned for industrial or residential purposes. And later still, he acted as the assembler of major urban-redevelopment projects for most of the larger Canadian real estate companies. After falling $45 million into debt in his real estate business with Shefsky in 1974, Cogan recovered, repaying every penny with interest. Then, Ephraim Diamond, who was then chairman of The Cadillac Fairview Corp. Ltd. and is now part of the Leningrad team, handed him a series of lucrative assignments. By assembling most of the land for 17,000 Cadillac Fairview apartments and later selling them, Cogan earned millions of dollars in commissions.
Ambitious: Now, he acts as a dealmaker and investor. His most ambitious endeavor, apart from the Leningrad project, is what will ultimately be a multibillion-dollar deal to convert 580 acres of farmland north of Toronto into a glittering city centre for suburban York Region—a project that some observers estimate could earn him $200 million. Although he will not disclose his personal worth, he is a multimillionaire. Cogan, a father of six, rents a 6,500-square-foot, twostorey penthouse with a swimming pool in downtown Toronto.
Now, Cogan is beginning to hand over responsibility for negotiating the financial terms to associates such as Rotman, Diamond and Toronto developer Murray Menkes, who will develI op a business plan for the Leningrad project and oversee the continuing I negotiations with the Russians. Said ° Macklin Hancock, president of Project Planning Inc., the team’s urban planner: “Eddy will delegate things later, but for now he is the concert master.” If he succeeds, the Leningrad project could be Cogan’s greatest symphony.
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