Sault Ste. Marie's abandoned Northern Breweries site may see new life in the next few years.
Gateway Properties Inc. is queueing up its newly purchased property for a 200-unit condo development which has a twisted structure unique to the North.
Dubbed Renaissance Place Condominiums, plans for the curvy, $80-million venture include at least 32 above-ground stories, in addition to five below-ground levels, four of which will be parking, while the first basement level would be set aside for retail space.
Partners with the Toronto-based development firm include Toronto architect and design consultant Samar Chandra and Tom Feifel of Castle Realty.
“Our building epitomizes the renaissance of the Sault, the rebirth,” said Nirmala Singh, chair of Renaissance Place Condominiums, in an email.
Singh believes the tower will fit in well with the downtown redevelopment that's taken place over the last 30 years, from an industrial-heavy area to a people place with hotels, retail and residential developments, parks, and a boardwalk.
“Our development will be a symbolic expression of this renaissance, being the tallest building between Toronto and Calgary in Canada,” Singh said. “It will be a beautiful and unique addition to the Sault waterfront and will be visible from a great distance.”
The proposal is a welcome one for the city’s planners, who are supportive of downtown residential developments. Don McConnell, the city’s planning director, said residents living in the downtown help keep it vibrant and bustling.
“From that respect, anything that creates additional housing downtown, we're going to try and support, and this structure would be an iconic structure, which would be very interesting,” he said. “We're looking forward to working with the developers and seeing how this project comes along.”
Since the property was formerly an industrial site, it would have to go through an environmental evaluation process before developers could begin the project, said Don Maki, chief building official.
“They would have to have a record of site condition registered with the Ministry of the Environment,” he said. “That has to be done before they file the building permit applications.”
Without any height restrictions, a 32-storey structure wouldn’t violate any city bylaws, but the developers would have to provide enough parking for all 200 units. The underground parking should fulfill that requirement, but Maki said developers can apply for variances to the bylaw to help meet its conditions.
If all goes well, the tower wouldn’t be the only new development in the city’s core. The much-maligned Gateway waterfront property is being examined again, this time by the city, which owns the property.
Last spring, under a two-year mandate granted by the city, a development committee secured consulting companies Forrec and Pannell Kerr Foster (PKF) to brainstorm ideas for the vacant waterfront land, said Ian McMillan, executive director of tourism.
“As opposed to looking for a developer with a big cheque, promising a major development, we're looking at it much more realistically in that it should be a mixed-use site, and the attraction component will probably be a not-for-profit type of facility,” he said. “It will open the site up to work with the private sector to come forward to develop the retail, dining, entertainment and possibly accommodation/condominium development on the site.”
Operating under the idea that any development must be doable and sustainable—“We’re not going to build the Disney World of the North,” McMillan said—the committee is seeking to create a sense of place, incorporating a glass and steel structure that would allow visitors to access any attractions even during the winter months.
McMillan said Sudbury’s Science North serves as an example of the kind of development the committee is aiming for: a great tourist destination that also attracts local, repeat visitors because the exhibits are refreshed on a regular basis. Relocating the Agawa Canyon train depot to the site is also a consideration.
Anticipating the committee will return to council with a more detailed concept in late winter or early spring, McMillan recognizes previous failed plans for the site have left some skeptics in their wake. He emphasized the committee is approaching the project with caution, not looking for a pie-in-the-sky development.
“That’s not our intent,” he said.
Development in general has remained steady in the Sault, with a total of $120 million in construction by September's end, which has been driven largely by the industrial sector, Maki said.
“The last five years we’ve been averaging around that, which is really good, very good, for a community of our size,” he said.
Sault Ste. Marie has benefitted from the construction of schools, an airport hangar, a new hospital, and buildings at both Sault College and Algoma University, to which the city contributed $1 million each.
The retail developments of the last few years have continued in earnest, with Michaels and LCBO stores currently under construction, and the International Bridge plaza is also planning a revamping of its facilities, which is scheduled for the spring, Maki added.
All this construction is good news for the Sault Ste. Marie Construction Association, whose members haven’t felt the same pinch due to worker shortages as those in other areas of the country.
Manager Rick Thomas hasn’t seen delays in the scheduling of local construction projects due to shortages, but suggested some skilled workers are being lured away by major mine developments further north.
“If we’re hurting it’s because the majority of our young carpenters, pipefitters and fitter-welders are in Kirkland Lake, Timmins and Matachewan,” he said.
Though the skilled workforce is well-stocked now, Thomas said he's cautioned his members that it will slow down within a few years' time, as there continues to be a dearth of workers to fill positions being left by retirees.
“We've had good fortune lately because of the number of jobs with a number of hours in them,” he said. “We've created a fair number of new apprentices across the trades, but as an industry across the country, we're in rough, rough shape.”