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TORONTO — CBC's real estate boss says every building is a candidate to be sold as the public broadcaster grapples with massive budget cuts. But Marc Lapierre insists there is no formal plan to sell all of the CBC's buildings, as suggested by the Canadian Media Guild. Lapierre, executive director of real estate services at CBC/Radio-Canada, says he can't comment on any commercial opportunities currently being pursued. "But as a general principle it is true that we're looking into divesting our buildings, trying not to be owners of our buildings and moving into lease properties," Lapierre said Wednesday. "That being said, we only do that if it makes business sense in any market." He referred to a plan announced last year to reduce the CBC's real estate footprint by 50 per cent, or two million square feet, by 2020. That could mean leasing excess space or selling and moving into a smaller facility. The Canadian Media Guild raised alarm bells Tuesday when it said in a press release that a townhall meeting revealed CBC will be "selling all its property across the country, including major production facilities in Montreal and Toronto." Alexandra Fortier, CBC manager of media relations, stopped short of refuting the claim Wednesday, saying only that no new plans were announced at the meeting. She reiterated last year's plan to reduce CBC's footprint by 50 per cent. Lapierre said they are "10 per cent completed" in that mission, noting about 400,000 square feet have been shed since 2011, most of it in the past year and a half. Fortier pointed to nine properties sold in the past five years in locations including Sudbury, Ont., Halifax, Moncton, N.B., and Windsor, Ont. The CBC has also leased out excess space in Toronto and Vancouver. "We're trying to save as much money as possible paying for real estate so we can put it into the actual content and programming," said Lapierre. "Whether you occupy a square foot for your operation or not, you've got to pay for it — you've got to pay energy, tax, maintenance and sometimes a lease. So better be right-sized than paying for space that you do not use." Shedding property also reduces exposure to various market risks, he added, while offering greater flexibility as the CBC workforce continues to shrink. The CBC has cut more than 2,800 jobs since 2008 and plans to cut another 1,600 by 2020. CMG national president Carmel Smyth questioned the strategy when the federal Liberal, New Democrat and Green parties have promised to restore or increase CBC funding if elected. "Why rush into such an irreversible decision now?" she said in Tuesday's release. But Lapierre said election promises don't affect CBC's strategy. "It's pure speculation at this point what will become of our future in any government," he said. Lapierre is based in Montreal but said he was in Toronto on Wednesday to assess usage of CBC's sprawling headquarters. About 300,000 of the downtown flagship property's 1.5 million square feet have already been leased to third parties including Disney Cruise Line, the ad agency Bensimon Byrne, and the real estate trust Allied Properties REIT. "Can we get more efficient in our usage of space (if) we can compress in less square footage? That's exactly the exercise we're in right now," Lapierre said. "I cannot give you an exact number but we can do less than that, that's for sure."
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