Windsor investors poised to bring old Fish Market back to life

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Windsor Star/Dave Battagello [with photos]


A downtown landmark that once served seafood by the platter and beer by the barrel is about to get a new lease on life — and the local businessmen who are making the multimillion-dollar investment say it’s for real this time.

Local developer Dino Maggio, under his Mid South Land Developments Company, has purchased the former Chatham Street Fish Market and Loop building, which had fallen into disrepair and remained a shuttered eyesore in recent years under the ownership of Toronto-based investor Henry Tam.

Maggio’s son, Anthony, and the owners of Cypher Systems Group are also partners in the $1.6-million sale.

They are poised to spend “multi-millions” and return the building close to its original appearance when it opened in 1912 as an auto showroom and garage.

Subject to city approvals, work on renovations should start almost immediately and be completed some time next summer, Maggio said.

Mid South Land Developments has a history locally of converting old buildings into viable commercial ventures. Maggio points to his recent successful track record, which includes the former Teutonia Club, plus several buildings in the Walker Industrial Park and Olde Walkerville.

Early plans for the building at 156 Chatham St. W., call for a mix of high-end lofts on the second floor, a number of apartments on the first and second floor targeted for downtown university and college students, 6,000 square feet of available commercial or office space on the main floor and a possible food establishment in the basement, where the popular pub known as the Coach and Horses was located.

But the primary focus initially is to restore the building to its original appearance, Maggio said.

“We think the building historically is a masterpiece,” he said. “There has been a lot of talk about it, but nobody was doing anything. At first, I wasn’t interested. But one thing lead to another and I realized we can put it back together.

“We said ‘let’s create a real jewel.’”

Maggio credits his son, Anthony, for researching the building’s history and convincing the group how it can return to its original glory. The Universal Car Agency occupied the building first and was a showroom for cars built by the former Russell Motor Car Company, Ford Motor and Cadillac. It was also a service garage. In 1924, the building was converted to Baum and Brody Furniture.

The most recent chapter in the ’80s and ’90s included the successful Fish Market restaurant, Coach and Horses pub and up until 2015, the Loop complex.

“On the main floor we can definitely replicate the way the building looked in the early 1900s,” Maggio said. “That’s really what we want to bring it back to — with some new windows, new roof and a bit of modernization.”

Tam several years ago was involved in a high-profile purchase of the building and two other buildings down the street — 28 Chatham St. E., the old Plunkett’s, and 52 Chatham St. W., where Ye Olde Steak House stood for many years.

He presented visions for each building, but that was quickly followed by controversy when he accused City of Windsor officials of not being business-friendly and failing to clear red tape to help make renovations a reality.

Tam’s plan for the former Fish Market building was a conversion into a food court with a dozen apartments. He insisted as recently as a year ago those plans remained on track.

But local commercial Realtor Jim Williams, who handled the building’s sale, said Tam found it impossible to get the job done from Toronto.

Work on the Plunkett’s building conversion into apartments proceeded and was nearly completed. But the former Ye Olde Steak House was involved in a small fire last year during demolition, while nothing has been touched at the Fish Market building.

“Right now, it’s a bit of a disaster, but the work doesn’t bother me,” Maggio said. “We decided there is so much history there so why not take a stab at it. It will be nice to bring this back for the community. Nobody is doing a lot downtown right now, so we hope this starts it off.”

Williams believes the renovation will be a catalyst to get things going among other vacant commercial buildings on Chatham Street and elsewhere downtown.

“Timing is everything,” he said. “The university coming down here is a reality, the economy is a lot better. We have great local business people here that have the wherewithal, vision and pride to turn things around. This is real.”

Mayor Drew Dilkens was briefed on the purchase and pledged the city’s full support to make the renovation happen.

“I am very excited,” he said. “The beauty of this ownership group is they are local, they have the resources and a solid plan to see this building transformed. I look forward to seeing this gem restored.

“These owners will have the full co-operation of the city.”

Stephen Savage and Brian Schwab, co-owners of Cypher Systems, said the key this time for seeing the project through to completion is the local connection.

“We are from Windsor,” Savage said. “We love this city and want to see revitalization of the downtown core. Developers from out of town don’t have the same passion for the city. We believe this is a great building, so let’s return it to its former glory.”