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Changes coming to two Sault Ste. Marie landmark buildings

Owner of Windsor Park Place aims to bring back retirement living
Older parts of the former Windsor Park Hotel site at 617 Queen St. East need to be demolished, the owner says. (SooToday photo)

The Richmond Hill, Ont. owner of two of Sault Ste. Marie's best-known landmarks has disclosed his intentions for the historic, water-damaged buildings.

Feroze Virani, president of Windsor Park Place, revealed in a letter sent to the city on Feb. 1 that he's switching the 10-storey tower from its most recent use as a student residence, back to being a retirement home with 56 rooms in its first phase.

A second phase, for which Virani is seeking site plan approval from the city, would add 84 more retirement suites.

The tallest part of the old Windsor Park Hotel was built in the 1930s.

Virani wants to demolish and rebuild two older buildings on the site at Queen and Brock that were built in 1895 and 1910.

Major parts of those buildings haven't been used for years.

"We looked at the possibility of preserving these buildings by adding floors above them to meet our requirements," Virani said.

"However, we were advised by our engineers that these buildings are not structurally sound to take any additional loads and need to be demolished and rebuilt to have any meaningful use."

Virani said he's already obtained needed permits for the first phase of the retirement home conversion and more than 60 per cent of the work is completed.

The downtown tower and The Tech are well known to local firefighters, who've responded to many false alarms and frozen water-pipe breaks in the two buildings in recent years.

The city's municipal heritage committee met Feb. 2 to discuss a draft municipal heritage register that included the Windsor Park, The Tech at 130 Wellington St. E., and many other properties.

Here's the committee's stated rationale for including Windsor Park Place in the municipal heritage register, which identifies local properties that have cultural heritage value or interest:

"Built in 1895, the Windsor Park Hotel remains one of the tallest buildings in Sault Ste. Marie. It still has its original painted brick with cornices on the office side buildings while the top of the building has a decorative brick pattern. The lower two floors are in poor condition but could be restored. The interior of the building has interesting woodwork with much local red oak throughout the lobby. It also has a greater importance to Sault Ste. Marie’s history as the building has hosted such people as Queen Elizabeth and other visiting dignitaries. Thus, the entrance foyer and fireplace have historical significance."

Virani is fighting to keep both The Tech and Windsor Park off the heritage register.

He said his buildings aren't rare, unique or particularly notable for craftsmanship or artistic merit.

"We do understand the importance of historical values and we are trying our best to preserve as we have not made any structure change [to the] tower, which is the main focal point and to conserve the lobby of the tower building to its original theme."

"As part of our renovations, we're preserving the fireplace and most of the red oak woodwork in the lobby."

"We have already invested millions of dollars into this project and if included in the list of heritage municipal register, will cast a very negative impact on our financing conditions and will jeopardize the whole project."

Sault's oldest standing secondary school

In a separate letter written Tuesday on behalf of 11547305 Canada Inc., Virani asked that The Tech also be left off the register.

Here's the committee's argument for including it:

"The Sault Technical and Commercial High School was built 1921, and is the oldest remaining secondary school built in Sault Ste. Marie. It has been noted for its architecture and is a local landmark. The school was renamed Lakeway Collegiate & Vocational School in 1969. In 1987 St. Mary’s College, a coeducational Catholic high school relocated to this building, until 2015."

"These buildings were being abandoned and left vacant with water damage and without heat and were casting very negative impact on the city and the neighbourhood," Virani replies.

"We already have invested millions of dollars into this project and if included in the list of heritage municipal register, will cause a very negative impact on our financing conditions and will jeopardize the whole project," he says.

"We do understand that in some eyes, the front portions of the original building may have some architectural features that may need to be protected. We would keep this is mind and try our best to preserve those architectural elements when we come around to renovate or make any changes to the original building."

"We would like to revisit the inclusion to the heritage registry matter once our apartment building is constructed so that we do not jeopardize our plans," Virani wrote.

St. Andrew's United Church

Also asking to be excluded from the registry is St. Andrew's United Church.

"We are proud of our building and have attempted to maintain it to be best of our ability," wrote Carol McLean and Dana Peterson.

"As with many church congregations in Canada our congregation is aging and shrinking in size. It has been reported that 60 per cent of churches have property/buildings that are a financial burden to the congregations that support them."

"Our successful way forward may include repurposing or renovating some or all of our buildings and potentially selling the property," the church chairs said.

"We understand that while the proposed inclusion in the heritage register does not prevent any of these activities, we realize that it adds a 60-day waiting period to a request for demolition permit and raises questions regarding potential approval of such a request."

At the meeting, the city's municipal heritage committee decided to remove the objectors from a draft heritage registry list to be presented to City Council for approval, most likely on Feb. 22.

Further discussions will be held with the objectors to determine whether they might be interested in changing their minds.

— SooToday