Seeing Holmes Foundry site for sale after 17-year fight bittersweet for original investor

The former Holmes Foundry buildings and property, which have been derelict for more than 25 years, are listed for $7 million. Glenn Ogilvie

Cathy Dobson

Ray Lariviere is celebrating the end of a convoluted court case that has finally allowed the former Holmes Foundry property to be listed for sale.

An Ontario Supreme Court decision means a key 16-acre property marking the entrance to Ontario can now be developed.

The court settlement is sealed and the details confidential. But the critical question of ownership has finally been resolved after 17 years of legal wrangling.

Lariviere is a director with Gateway Inc., the company selling the property. He was also a director with its predecessor, the D’Andrea Group, which no longer exists. He is also one of 20 family and friends defrauded in 1999 by local realtor and one-time Holmes Foundry owner John D’Andrea.

D’Andrea served jail time for assembling the investors group and defrauding its members of half its value.

Seeing a ‘For Sale’ sign go up after all these years is gratifying but also upsetting, said Lariviere.

“I wish I could speak positively now but I can’t,” he told The Journal.  “After 17 years, too much pain has been inflicted. John D’Andrea was best man at my wedding. Now we don’t speak.”

The Point Edward property is bounded by Highway 402 and Front, Exmouth and Christina streets.

The asking price is $7 million.

Lariviere, a retired land developer and homebuilder, said if the group receives the full list price half of it will go to lawyer legal fees.

“After 17 years of litigation, there’s barely anything left for the shareholders,” he said. “But we’re all optimistic that development will occur and this saga will be over.”

Three of the original investors died before the court settlement was reached.

Two decaying cement block buildings are all that remain of the foundry that was shut down by Chrysler in the late 1980s. At the time, $7 million was spent on an environmental cleanup before Chrysler sold it in to the D’Andrea Group in 1989.

“I don’t know if more cleanup will be required,” said Point Edward CAO Jim Burns. “But I know council is willing to look at any kind of proposal.”

The property attracted considerable interest even when it was in legal limbo and the municipality receives regular inquiries about zoning, Burns said.

Holmes Foundry is one of the few tracts of developable land in the village, which is hemmed in by water and neighbouring Sarnia.

“Its development is a great thing, not just for the additional tax dollars but also because of the stigma of that property and getting it cleaned up,” said Burns.

“When you cross the bridge, you won’t see blight but instead see something attractive.”

Lariviere said those interested include unnamed big box stores and the County of Lambton, which wants to see a convention centre in the Sarnia area.

A combination of commercial and residential development may work best for the site, said listing agent Lou Longo.

“Personally, I think it should be a highrise residential, hotel and retail development,” he said.  “But you never know. Someone could come across with an entirely different idea.

“It’s a jewel and the biggest thing is to find someone with the vision to develop it and really make use of its location.”