Helen Bougas – Selection Group
Development of the iconic brick buildings of Montreal’s historic Molson Brewing Company are about to put Selection Group on the real estate map in a big way.
In June, the privately-owned Quebec-based company, specializing in the development, construction and management of real estate projects, acquired all 1.2 million square feet of the historic downtown landmark—a site known for brewing beer for 222 years. It’s an opportunity for the business to develop the city’s growing skyline, and in the middle of all the transactions surrounding the $126 million deal was Vice President of Legal Affairs Helen Bougas.
“This puts us on the map of real estate development in Montreal,” says Bougas, who led a team of five female attorneys on the company’s largest ever public-private partnership, paving the way for development outside the province. “There’s a lot of people picking up the phone calling us who want to get involved.”
A 30-year-old company started by Real Bouclin in 1989, Selection Group was one of the first businesses of its kind to start developing diversified real estate projects in Montreal, creating a name for itself—particularly in the retirement community sector.
Now with a portfolio covering a demographic involving everyone from millennials to retirees, Selection Group has branched out in its real estate rental offerings in the past three years. A special future focus is taking its housing models as far south as Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and westward toward Toronto and Ottawa. “It is exciting to be part of a growing company,” she says. “We have made it our mission to build thriving communities in Quebec, and now we are ready to take the leap and export our successful model to the rest of Canada and beyond.”
Bougas explains there are several brands of rental living environments Selection Group creates: “Yimby”—“Yes in my back yard”—offers condo-type rentals designed for millennials; “REZ” is condo rentals for families; “fridöm” is a boutique apartment line with town house offerings designed for empty nesters (55 and up); and “Selection Retraite” provides rental properties for active retirees ages 75 and older.
“At Selection Group, innovation is key and represents the underlying theme for the development of all of our brands and living environments. We create communities that combine innovative architecture with carefully curated spaces that are conducive to bringing people together,” Bougas says.
The Molson property is one that will keep the legal department hopping for the next decade.
With negotiations starting in 2018, Bougas directed legal matters from the start, including the development of partnerships; handling the details of financing, licensing and land acquisition; deciphering regulations; and dealing with the city’s preemptive rights clauses—giving it domain over certain lots within the city.
“We created a win-win situation with city officials,” Bougas says, explaining that in its agreement Selection Group will provide a park in this industrial area; buildings with access and space for social services; a library; affordable housing; and a school. They will even build a Molson Museum to pay homage to the site’s history.
Molson—which will be relocating its operations by building a new brewery across town—will remain a tenant on-site even after their brewery is relocated. As the brewing operations are relocated to their new site, other projects can move in—a phased process that is expected to take place over a seven to 10 year period, Bougas explains.
“While we’ve been a big player in the real estate space for three decades now, this project definitely shows the scope of projects that our team can develop. I am proud to have played a pivotal role in such a historical transaction. Moving forward, we will continue to work with all of the stakeholders involved, in hopes of building a project that all Montrealers can be proud of for generations to come,” Bougas says.
“Not tripping over the flowers on the carpet”
And there’s a lot Bougas has learned to do over the years. Working her way up from a notary position to become a vice president of legal affairs, she had no qualms handling one of Montreal’s biggest land use projects.
Bougas got started on her educational and career path earning both her D.D.N. (droit notrial) in law in 2003 and her Bachelor of Law degree in 1998 from the Université de Montréal. Working as a notary from 2003 to 2017—both self-employed and for businesses like Castleton Mortgages—she handled a variety of commercial real estate transactions and mortgages before joining Selection Group in Laval in 2017, receiving two promotions in two years.
“I love the strategic negotiations with partners, the diversity of the work, and working under pressure; it’s never monotonous because every project is different,” she says.
Bougas says she is at a point in her career where she is recognized for her contribution to the process; where her ideas count. “It’s been wonderful to help negotiate something and helping the team develop which strategic approaches to take,” she says.
Given the volume of work, challenges often include the juggling of deadlines, as well as compiling information and coordinating efforts across a company of 3,000 employees. Thankfully, she has help from the five women on her legal team whom she mentors.
“In French we have a saying to “not trip on the flowers on the carpet,” meaning that it’s important to not make a big deal out of the things that aren’t important,” she says. “I’ve learned the difference between what is a deal breaker and what might become more of a snag.”
Bougas says early in her career she could see problems, but with more experience she says it is easier to find solutions.
“As I tell my own children, ‘We have two ears, so you should listen twice as much as you talk,’” she says.
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