By Ian Ross
NORTH BAY — North Bay’s vacant CP rail lands property does not look like much now; some broken up rails, beer bottles, pools of stagnant water, patches of blackened and oil-drenched soil from decades of dripping diesels.
But rather than build a multimillion-dollar tourist attraction on the prized 31-acre property, just a stone’s throw across Memorial Drive from the city’s popular waterfront, community leaders have adopted a decidedly low-scale, open-concept vision to create more green space with new upscale residential development on the fringes.
“There’a a lot of buzz around town because something is happening at the waterfront,” says Rod Johnston, a Corbeil dentist, private developer and chairman of the 500-strong Community Waterfront Friends group. “There’s been a real shift in planning and the pieces are starting to fall together.”
The development of the CP lands is considered the crowning touch of a larger concept to revitalize and integrate North Bay’s downtown with existing waterfront green space.
The city is looking to gradually phase in development on three parcels of land south of Oak Street, which includes the CP land, for commercial and parkland development, the former Kenroc/Uniroc site for new residential housing to the west and more parkland development on the existing waterfront strip.
The most widely accepted vision for redeveloping the CP rail lands is the Waterfront Friends’ concept to convert the property into a waterfront park with some passive activities and low-profile residential buildings around the edges ,similar to the amphitheatre-like development around New York’s Central Park. The project is estimated to come in at $250,000, with the Waterfront Friends contributing $25,000 and the rest possibly coming from a $100,000-funding application from FedNor.
Johnston has become a private developer himself, purchasing an old warehouse near the rail lands and flattening it,and plans to build a 72-co dominium development on the site.
“We see the CP station as the focal point for the railway lands,” says North Bay Mayor Jack Burrows, “which will tie into the downtown and give it some new life to create traffic and get people down there.”
After trying to bring CP to the negotiating table for years, the city acquired the land for $6 million, plus the cost of any soil remediation.
“We have arranged to buy the property, now we want to work at getting our investment back,” says Burrows, who further visualizes a “first-class” hotel with an attached conference venue capable of staging events for more than 600 people.
A business plan to cost out the Waterfront Friends’ vision is being written up by the IBI Group, a project management group specializing in urban design, market research and civil engineer. The study will further suggest a governance model, suggesting a non-profit body or a parks commission would manage the property.
Identification of the railway land’s environmental hot spots is being undertaken by Connestoga-Rovers and Associates, an international environmental consulting firm, which is preparing a risk-assessment study to determine the costs and options available for cleaning up the property.