Pair of seniors’ housing projects to get started this year

Artist concept of a $41-million seniors housing project proposed for the former Devine Street School lands. Submitted image

Tara Jeffrey

Two large housing projects announced last year have fueled hopes for an economic boost in the city’s south end and downtown core.

An Oakville-based retirement home company is preparing to build an assisted living complex at the Bayside Centre in the heart of downtown Sarnia.

Seasons Retirement Communities plans to build 140 to 160 suites on the 3.5-hectare (8.5-acre) property. The company has also purchased several Christina Street buildings between George and Lochiel streets as part of its “overall master plan for the Bayside Mall,” CEO Rick Smyth told The Journal, pointing to some 75 full-time and part-time jobs when construction is complete.

“I’m very excited about it,” longtime merchant Jim Hall told The Journal in November. The owner of Sarnia Coin Exchange closed a real estate deal on his Christina Street building and is preparing to vacate in February.

“Part of the reason I agreed to sell is that it’s going to be a really positive thing,” he said.

The mall opened 1982 as the Sarnia Eaton Centre, thrived for years, fell on hard times after Eaton’s closed, and slid to occupancy rates of 30% and lower.

Meanwhile, city council unanimously approved a massive $41-million seniors complex last fall for the site of the former Devine Street School, at Devine and Brock streets.

The project calls for an eight-storey assisted living complex and a five-storey long-term care home, boasting 300 new residents upon completion.

Overture Investments, a privately owned Canadian real estate company, bought the property at 321 Devine St. in May of 2016.

The developers are eager to get a site plan and permits in place and get started “as soon as possible,” spokesperson Jay McGuffin told a public meeting in October, when council unanimously approved rezoning and official plan amendments.

“Here we have a development that’s going to spring to life, and bring life back into that once very vibrant part of the neighbourhood,” Coun. Anne Marie Gillis said at the time. “I’m certainly looking forward to getting that shovel in the ground.”

The proposal calls for an underground parking garage, providing spaces for about 150 cars, along with a “scooter room” with parking for up to 58 mobility devices.

The project has received overwhelming support from neighbours, city staff said.

“There is pressure in our community to see these kind of economic development projects move forward,” said Coun. Bev MacDougall. “And also to provide economic renewal in this part of the city.”