Jarvis: Private sector stepping in to restore the psyche of the downtown
Thursday, November 23, 2017
The Windsor Star/Anne Jarvis
After millions of dollars in government investment in Windsor's downtown, the private sector is finally investing.
In the first significant new residential development downtown in decades, a three-storey, 24-unit apartment building will rise on a vacant lot on a depressed block of Ouellette Avenue north of Erie Street.
Developer Peter Valente, who acquired the lot in a tax sale, has submitted a site plan to the city. The $5.5-million brick and stucco apartment building will house 800- and 1,200-square-foot units with one and two bedrooms and balconies. He hopes to start construction in June.
It’s the third, big story this week for the core. Downtown is on a roll.
BK Cornerstone Design Build Ltd. has submitted a site plan for the long vacant former Box Office bar on Pelissier Street. A man was shot to death outside the bar in 2007. It was the fourth shooting in the area in four years. Now, BK Cornerstone wants to transform the main floor into commercial units and the second floor into residential units. It had planned to add two storeys for more residential units.
“We revised the application to go up to a maximum of five storeys,” company co-owner Brent Klundert said. “We could add as many as three storeys.”
Now, developer Dino Maggio, his son Anthony and Cypher Systems Group have bought it. They plan to spend “multimillions” restoring it for commercial or office space, high-end lofts and student apartments.
The Fish Market and the Box Office have been “anvils on the psyche of downtown,” said Ward 3 Coun. Rino Bortolin, who represents the core. “For the psyche of downtown, these will have a huge impact. I think you will have application after application.”
When was the last time the private sector did this: build an apartment building in the troubled core, buy a derelict building and restore it, even adding storeys?
All these proposals come a month after the city began offering aggressive incentives to spur development downtown. They come as Windsor learns from Detroit how revitalization is done.
After millions of dollars in government investment, from the casino to the university, college and aquatic centre, it could mark a turning point: the private sector is finally investing. And if they fill their apartments, they will have brought downtown what it needs most — people who will demand more stores and services.
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City council voted last year to waive development charges in the core. This fall, it approved a downtown plan with 39 recommendations to spur development, including grants for residential units, retail space and facade improvements and tax breaks. The savings can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. It was a factor for all three projects.
“Without the plan, this project would not happen,” said Valente, who could save $50,000 a year in taxes.
It’s not only the money. It’s the message.
“(The city) wants to see investment in the core,” Klundert said. “It’s nice, if you’re looking at revitalization, to know that there’s a joint effort — that’s the big message — between the city and the private sector.”
It also means there will be other investors.
“The more revitalization you get, the better the growth,” he said. “It protects the investment.”
There’s more than incentives happening. The economy has recovered. The university and college expanded downtown. Urban living and core neighbourhoods are in.
And at the former Fish Market, there’s talk of community, revitalization and being a catalyst.
Investors such as Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert in Detroit, who have vision, resources and hometown pride, have shown what they can do.
Maggio, who loves the Fish Market’s “bird’s eye view of the renaissance in Detroit,” is no Dan Gilbert — “definitely not,” he said. However, “not only do I like what he’s done downtown, I honestly believe, on a small scale, it will work here.”
Said Klundert, “You always want to see your hometown thrive. Knowing you can do your part in pushing that investment, you’re going to see people that have an interest in more than just dollar figures … that have an interest in revitalizing the city.”
If they care, people such as Maggio, Klundert, Valente and others who live, work and invest here have more power than the mayor and council, said Bortolin. They can transform the city. The city’s job — Detroit has mastered this — is to capitalize on them. It just takes someone to start.
“We think if we are successful, we will be a catalyst for other new development in this area,” said Valente.
Windsor Family Credit Union owns the vacant former Beer Market across from the Fish Market. The former Windsor Music Cafe, now a vacant lot, is around the corner from the Box Office. The block north of Valente’s lot is also depressed. Will they be developed?
A total of $964,000 is available for grants. Most of the incentives will be from waived fees and taxes. Council could go further and top up the kitty.