Forty miles north of Montreal in a sleepy farm community called Mirabel, Rubin Stahl, the former president of the West Edmonton Mall along with Connecticut-based Gordon Group Holdings, is planning one of the largest new retail projects in North America.

Lac Mirabel, the $350 million retail and entertainment complex, will feature 1.8 million square feet of mixed-use retail space spanning 320 acres, including Canada's largest indoor aquarium at 140,000 square feet, and a 305,000-square-foot man-made lake.

Lac Mirabel will feature a 70,000-square-foot “Kidtropolis” education facility, a 6,000-seat performance center and a 3,000-person convention center. Already half leased, the development is expected to generate $256 million in net sales annually and provide 3,200 jobs.

“The location is good and the timing is good for a project like this,” says Mark Sinnett, a CB Richard Ellis commercial real estate agent in Montreal. “Our economy grew by 3.5 percent last year and the retail industry has shown steady growth over the last five years.”

Wide Draw

Sinnett says that because Lac Mirabel is halfway between Montreal and the popular Laurentian resort area, the massive project could be successful due to the 4.5 million people that live in the greater Montreal area. “West Edmonton Mall was a risk because the entire Alberta province only had about 1 million people,” says Sinnett. “Lac Mirabel will be in Quebec, which is home to over 7 million.”

Even with demographics on its side, Lac Mirabel is a concern for some because of the failed history of other massive developments. And the Montreal-Mirabel International Airport recently closed due to lack of business. “People didn't want to drive 40 miles to get to the Mirabel airport, so they may not want to drive 40 miles to get to Lac Mirabel either,” says Robert Longtin, president of Montreal-based brokerage RL Commercial. People in the community have mixed feelings, Longtin says, because there is nothing but farms in Mirabel, and Montreal already offers many retail options.

While the suburbs are growing, the Quebec culture in general has not warmed to large-scale entertainment venues. “Six Flags took over an aging theme park in Montreal about three years ago and they haven't turned a profit yet,” says Sinnett.