Boutique-style condominium living in Sault Ste. Marie. That’s how the city’s newest residential development is being marketed to potential buyers, and it’s already getting plenty of attention.
Riverwalk Condominiums, a project of Toronto-based development company TVM Group, is a 40-unit development going into the former Plummer Hospital along the banks of the St. Mary’s River. Designed by MGP Architects of Sault Ste. Marie, the company that produced the iconic Roberta Bondar Pavilion, the project costs will come in around $10 million to $12 million.
In April, city council granted TVM an exemption to subdivision planning requirements in the Municipal Act, freeing the company to begin marketing the project.
Selling for $224,900 to $389,900, the suites will feature stainless steel appliances, central air, 10-foot ceilings, gas-fired furnaces and quartz countertops, and amenities include indoor parking, an exercise room and a movie-screening room.
Even though the project is still in the demolition phase, Amit Sofer, TVM’s lead developer, said the response has been extremely positive.
“It’s something that we created based upon our review of what exists in the Sault and what we think is missing in the Sault,” he said. “The response has just been so overwhelming. I think we may have hit the nail on the head with what the market needs and wants.”
The company has additionally ceded some land to the city to enhance its public Hub Trail, which snakes through the TVM property. It will allow for additional parkland and widen the trail by about six metres, Sofer said.
The TVM venture fits in well with the other public and private development activity taking place, said Don McConnell, the city’s planning director. Ongoing and planned projects include extensive road reconstruction, the opening of the Ermatinger Clergue heritage site, the redevelopment of the International Bridge, revitalization of the former St. Marys Paper mill site, and the opening of a business incubation centre in the downtown.
“It really is an exciting time when you look and see how much stuff is underway in the downtown right now and how much stuff we’re planning for, and it really is a real boost to the downtown,” McConnell said. “I think people are really happy to see it.”
Over the last few years, the city has put a particular emphasis on generating more residential development in an effort to revitalize its downtown and waterfront areas and enhance the neighbourhood.
A condominium complex and apartment building have gone up over the last few years, and another 39-unit apartment building is currently under construction.
Historically, 25 to 30 per cent of the city’s housing was comprised of apartments and condos; only in the last 10 or 15 years have developers switched their focus to single-family homes, McConnell said. But over the last couple of years, developers are taking a second look at apartments and condos.
“There seems to be a strong market demand to catch up, to put more apartment and condo units on the market,” McConnell said.
The Sault’s vacancy rate has hovered around 1.1 to 1.3 per cent, whereas a healthy vacancy rate should be somewhere around 3 per cent, he said.
Retirees and empty-nesters looking for low-maintenance housing options comprise part of that demographic, but young professionals are also seeking no-fuss homes while they settle in to new jobs or spend a few years saving money to purchase a house.
If a city’s health is judged by the health of its downtown, then attracting more residential development to the area can only help give it a boost, which in turn attracts more investment, McConnell said.
“Forty units is a big project for Sault Ste. Marie, but when you see all these little merchants that are spending their own money to fix up and renovate their buildings, that’s gold,” he said. “Those people are making a statement they have faith in what they’re doing and the area around them.”
The Riverwalk project will be at least another couple of months in demolition, said Sofer, and the start of construction will be contingent upon sales of the units. But he doesn’t foresee that being a problem.
“Prior to today I would have said it would take longer, but we’re so pleased with the response, it may continue without interruption,” he said.
TVM has undertaken a “substantial amount of asbestos removal,” and the interior has been gutted, allowing the company to install all new HVAC and plumbing to meet modern safety standards.
To date, all the work has been done by local companies, from the architect to the lawyer to the remediation company, Sofer said, noting that TVM’s preference is to use local labour and services where possible.
“The tendering process won’t start until we’ve got a building permit and full plans, but we definitely will be going to the local market, and hopefully they will be able to meet or achieve the prices that we would have to pay if we bring our crews in from out of town,” he said.
If the condo development goes as planned, TVM could roll out a second phase. Sofer said plans are still fluid, but the company is considering installing additional residential condo suites at the south end of the property, with an added commercial component, such as a high-end grocer or eatery.