New downtown residential projects will make Pelissier Street 'look really, really great'

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

The Windsor Star/Brian Cross


A cluster of new housing projects slated for a two-block stretch is expected to make long-dormant Pelissier Street the “hottest street in downtown Windsor.”

That’s the excitement level as three separate projects seeking incentives under the Downtown Windsor Community Improvement Plan head to council’s Development and Heritage Standing Committee on Monday.

They include:

  • BK Cornerstone’s five-storey condo project with 70 to 80 units on a collection of surface parking lots at Pelissier/Wyandotte Street/Victoria Avenue.
  • Renovation of Baker Investments’ distinctive 80-year-old art deco building (a former fish market that still sports a green ceramic fish on its exterior) on the southwest corner of Pelissier and Wyandotte, with the creation of three apartments on the second floor.
  • And hands-on investor Ray Blanchard converting a former nightclub into 13 “boutique” apartments, most with balconies, at 477 Pelissier.  The end product will be a “really sexy,” modern-looking building, Blanchard said.

“I think Pelissier is going to look really, really great, especially after the three projects are done,” said Blanchard, a recent transplant from Toronto who looked at the investment opportunities in the downtown and jumped right in. He’s also purchased a commercial property in the 600 block of Ouellette (backing onto Pelissier) that he plans to convert to residential after completing his 477 Pelissier project. He’s spoken to other investors who are buying or looking at buying long-vacant or underutilized commercial buildings and renovating them into in-demand residential units. Just last week, the new owners of the 92-year-old Canada Building in the 300 block of Ouellette announced plans to convert most of its 14 storeys from commercial to residential.

“I think this is the premier opportunity in Windsor for real estate — taking some of these debilitated underperforming assets in the downtown core and revitalizing them,” Blanchard said.

BK Cornerstone is also the developer of The Hive, a stylish conversion of the former Don Cherry’s at 531 Pelissier into high-end apartments with commercial on the ground floor. (A small grocery store is the tenant everyone is hoping for.) The Hive is expected to be completed by summer’s end, adding another jazzy component to a street that was vacated in recent years by multiple bars and offices. However, the area bustles when the downtown farmer’s market takes over on Saturdays.

“When you start to look at all the dots,” of all the new downtown projects in the pipe, “there’s lots on the horizon,” said Ward 3 Coun. Rino Bortolin, who represents the downtown area and rhymes off a multitude of new development projects on or near Pelissier. These also include a big 119-unit condo tower recently announced for the southwest corner of Wyandotte and Ouellette, Vern Myslichuk’s conversion of the old Security building into residential at Pelissier and University, and The Chelsea, a former YMCA building on Pelissier that Larry Horwitz bought 12 years ago and renovated to house 30 apartments. He’s moving forward now with 20-plus additional apartments, he said Tuesday.

Bortolin said people should take a look at Pelissier near the end of next summer when The Hive should be completed as well as Blanchard’s 477 Pelissier project.

“Come out and see how everything pieces together with more residents, Maiden Lane being filled (with commercial tenants), the farmer’s market being there,” he said. “Seeing how strong of a hub that area becomes will be a huge key in showing other investors what’s possible downtown.”

Laura Diotte, a City of Windsor planner who handles the downtown CIP applications, said she was excited to see a “cluster” of applications come in at once for projects on Pelissier, which has already had several smaller applications approved for facade improvements on the street. Having several projects completed in the same area will make a big difference, she predicted.

Brian Yeomans, chairman of the downtown business improvement association, said he likes the fact the three projects going forward Monday are so different in size, shape and scope. “You’ve got condos, you’ve got high-end apartments, you’ve got boutique apartments,” he said, explaining that means a wider range of people moving into downtown.

“And once there are more residents downtown, businesses will follow.”

The Hive project is more than a half-year away from being finished, but a couple hundred people are on a list seeking information on renting out the 24 units, said BK Cornerstone’s Chris MacLeod.

The CIP provides grants to improve building facades and create residential units on the upper floors of downtown buildings, but the big incentive is the tax breaks, he said. The CIP grants back the municipal tax increase that happens when a new building is constructed or an existing building is renovated. In the case of BK Cornerstone’s Pelissier/Wyandotte/Victoria project, that means that $220,621 of the estimated new tax of $231,961 will be rebated back for 10 years, a $2.2 million savings that can be passed on to the individual condo owners.

MacLeod said that translates into a tax savings of around $27,000 per condo unit over 10 years. In addition, the city waives development charges in downtown to encourage construction, which saves about $20,000 per unit. He said the cost of a downtown condo will likely be a little more expensive than elsewhere because underground parking is so much more expensive than surface parking. But the incentives allow BK Cornerstone to market a comparably priced product when the savings are factored in.

“We can paint that picture for (buyers) downtown, that while your mortgage might be high, your taxes will be less.”

He said as The Hive is finished, BK will concentrate on selling units at its new Pelissier/Wyandotte/Victoria project. Once it’s 80 per cent sold, they’ll move forward with construction. He said construction likely won’t start until mid-2022.

“We really believe in what’s going on downtown, I really think we’re starting to get to an inflection point,” MacLeod said, citing all the recent news of residential projects. “I think enough people have now started to invest downtown that you’ll start to see things accelerate. So we’re really excited to be part of that.”