Graffiti project will become a Windsor destination, developer says

Monday, February 3, 2020

The Windsor Star/Brian Cross


Construction of a $35-million residential/commercial project called Graffiti should start within months at a long-neglected property on University Avenue West, its developers said Monday night.

The 2.3-acre site was most recently known as the home of the Junction family entertainment centre, which closed more than a decade ago. But it actually has a 237-year history of maintaining horse-drawn carriages, streetcars and then buses followed by a stint as a hardware store called Butler’s. AIPL Canada plans on restoring the three historic properties fronting University to provide 18,700 square feet of commercial space and building a 148-unit six-storey residential building in the vacant land north of those buildings and south of the Portofino condo tower on Riverside Drive.

AIPL director Dalvinder Singh told reporters following Monday’s council meeting that he’s hoping to start construction in the second quarter of this year.

“I know this project has been sitting idle for awhile, but we’ve got big plans for the project, exciting designs, new architecture, different retail uses,” describing Graffiti as a mixed-use project all the businesses and residents come together to build a community.

“We are really looking at this is a destination for the City of Windsor, where people will flock there and give another reason for people to be a part of this development.”

He was at Monday’s meeting to watch council approve a package of incentives under the city’s Brownfield Development Community Improvement Plan, which were designed 10 years ago to encourage the cleanup and redevelopment of the city’s 559 acres of potentially contaminated former industrial land. AIPL is getting $3 million in incentives, including $23,795 to help with environmental studies and $94,217 in reduced development charges. The biggest component of the package are rebates on 70 per cent of the increased municipal taxes paid when a property is improved. In this case, the development will increase annual taxes from $44,490 to $441,736, so the grants will add up to $2.9 million in savings over 11 years.

Singh said the grants were “very, very important” because they help make the project financially feasible. The remediation of contaminated soil is 95 per cent complete, he said.

The property was used starting in 1783 as a horse-drawn passenger carriage operation. It later (around 1890) became the trolley and bus storage and maintenance operation for the SW&A Street Railway and eventually a hardware store.

Singh said they have some exciting plans for the existing buildings, particularly the old maintenance building that was largely restored by the property’s previous owners. They intend to convert it into a food hall, featuring a number of local eateries offering a vast array of dining in one building.

“We like the historical character of the building. We want to keep it and integrate it into the development,” he said. He said the project is not aimed at any one group. Students, seniors, families and young professionals will all be welcome.

Graffiti is not the only project on University taking shape. A few blocks to the east is the city-owned former Grace Hospital site, which garnered six development proposals when the city issued a request for proposals last year. Council narrowed the short list down to four proponents, all of whom plan developments that would create hundreds of housing units. A few blocks east of the Grace site is a little-used city parking lot at Caron Avenue which is the subject of another request for proposals for housing. And while not on University, the $45-million Piroli Developments project at Crawford and Wyandotte avenues is nearing completion with 147 rental units.

There’s also plans to turn the former rail cut known as Gateway Park adjacent to Graffiti into a legitimate city park, and an environmental assessment is underway to make improvements to the road that connects downtown to the University of Windsor.

Singh said the Graffiti project still needs rezoning. He said combining his company’s project with what will happen at the Grace site will “propel” the street and the area in general.