Commercial investors pouncing on downtown Windsor real estate

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Windsor Star/Doug Schmidt

The Loop entertainment complex has shut its doors, but observers insist it shouldn’t trigger fears of yet more blight spreading along a once-bustling stretch of Chatham Street in the downtown.

The property’s former owner, who hinted at his company making a small fortune on the sale, said the transaction that closed Thursday should actually spell great news for Windsor’s core.

The purchaser “really believes in Windsor and the downtown, as do we,” said Sam Katzman of Katzman Enterprises. He won’t disclose the selling price of the home of the former Pogo’s and Fish Market sold, but said it was an offer that couldn’t be refused — “in the millions of dollars.”

The buyer also remains a mystery.

Katzman will only say he’s a Toronto investor who has “fallen in love with Windsor” and who doesn’t want his name out there as he continues to pursue other downtown properties. “He’s not done with Windsor yet.”

That secretive buyer might also be behind the recent quick sale of another vacated Chatham Street address — the former Pour House, located a few doors to the east. That property, including a ground-floor restaurant and two storeys of office space above, sold for $430,000 in August but was subsequently resold at a much higher price.

A property manager told The Star the purchaser is a Toronto investor who has asked that his name not be divulged. The same property manager’s name is listed as the contact person and posted on the window of a third Chatham Street property, the vacated Kilt & Fiddle a block to the east.

“Deals are in the making … things are happening in downtown Windsor,” long-time realtor Jim Williams told The Star. He said he couldn’t elaborate but that his RE/MAX company is also involved in some active downtown real estate dealings.

Katzman, whose company owns the adjacent Cheetah’s and another nightclub in the next block over, said the investor showed up with two architects and a builder in tow.

Although The Loop hosted four bars until it was shut down this week, Katzman said the new owner told him he won’t be operating a bar and that he was excited about the influx of hundreds of University of Windsor students and faculty to the new School of Social Work across the street.

Pause Cafe owner Ryan Smith, who lamented for years the sorrowful state of the block surrounding him, is excited again, saying rumours have been flying that investors are gobbling up vacant downtown buildings.

“It’s movement. The current owners were doing nothing — if we get new owners, we get new chances for development,” he said.

He’s been waiting for the turnaround since the last recession crippled the street, and he’s already seen a “monumental” spike in business since the opening of the university’s first downtown footprint.

“Money’s walking through the door,” Smith said.

For an investor from the white-hot Toronto real estate market on the hunt for deals, shopping for Windsor properties must be akin to perusing the bargain aisles at a Dollar Store.

In what other Canadian city, for example, could a buyer scoop up a five-storey office building — with commercial ground-floor frontage along the downtown’s main street — for barely more than a quarter-million dollars?

“It needs a huge amount of work, though,” Royal Lepage realtor Charles Gauthier said of just such a highrise at 333 Ouellette Ave., which sold in August for $285,000. He estimates the new owner of the mostly empty building will have to invest at least that much again to bring it back to life.

“But given what prices are like in Toronto, it’s a bargain,” Gauthier said.

Former Windsor mayor Eddie Francis, who is now a senior executive with the Windsor Family Credit Union, said he spent part of this week showing potential investors around the former Beer Market and Chatham Street Grill, two other vacant properties on the same strip as The Loop that fell into the mortgage owner’s hands, but which have sat unused for years.

Williams said it’s not a sure thing that what’s happening isn’t speculative buying, with new, deep-pocketed owners simply snapping up great deals and then sitting on the empty holdings until the local economy improves.

Pause Cafe’s Smith believes it’s just Windsor’s turn.

“Have you ever played Monopoly? First, you buy Boardwalk and Park Place, and then you buy Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary. Well, now you’re going after the Baltic Avenues and the Windsors,” he said.