Despite more than half a dozen failed attempts to develop it, the waterfront property adjacent to Gateway Casinos in Sault Ste. Marie has lain dormant for two decades.
There have been proposals from winemakers, domestic, and foreign developers, but it remains vacant and available.
According to Tom Vair, the city's deputy CAO of community development and enterprise services, it is owned by the City of Sault Ste. Marie and just waiting for the right initiative.
“There is no single development opportunity the city is focused on for the site…. The site could be sold outright or could be broken into smaller parcels of land,” said Vair.
Back in the 1990s, the city was granted $15 million by a Northern Ontario Heritage funding program to bring tourism to the North. The Gateway site was marketed as an ideal site for this major tourism development.
To date, there has been no construction on the empty Gateway site, which once contained Algoma Steel's settling ponds.
However, Vair is optimistic about the site’s potential.
Ever since the city acquired the 15 acres that used to host the railway tracks, Vair feels the property has risen in buildout value.
"This now provides frontage along Bay Street and additional land available for development," said Vair.
City officials have entertained a parade of wannabe developers who have either produced nothing or faded away.
Interest in the site began in 2002, with a bid by Rick and Gail Holmes of Kittling Ridge Estate Winery and Distillery from Grimsby, wanting to build a 50,000-square-foot tourist attraction. But that fell through.
Their business partner and president of a non-for-profit, Legacy Quest Inc., Philip Garforth took over the Sault project, Borealis. This turned into a $53-million plan to erect a rainforest biodome tourist attraction complete with acrobats and Mayan pyramids to climb.
In 2007, the city pulled the plug on Garforth’s plans, claiming he had breached contractual obligations. He threatened to sue and then disappeared from the headlines altogether.
A year later, a Toronto-based affiliate of Cherokee Investment Partners LLC of Raleigh, North Carolina, approached city council with a proposal, but a plan was never submitted.
All was quiet on the site until 2015, when Canal Village Development Corp. made a brief appearance at the table with an interest in developing the site.
Unfortunately, the lead developer was associated with a notorious convicted con artist by the name of Shaun Rootenberg. In under two weeks, that developer walked away, too.
Since the Bawating Urban Indigenous Committee decided to find a different location for their affordable housing and urban Indigenous hub back in December 2020, the lot is untouched.
The city's objectives still include a tourist attraction, great jobs and a development that can run without public subsidies. All that's needed is the right project to come along.
“The site is a prime location on the city waterfront and the city will hold the property until a development opportunity materializes that council deems worthy of approval,” said Vair.