Bayside redevelopment still very much alive

The Lambton Shared Services Centre is at the centre of a lease agreement that has stalled the sale and redevelopment of the Bayside lands. Journal Photo

Cathy Dobson

A deal critical to a massive redevelopment of downtown’s Bayside Centre is still inching forward.

Numerous deadlines have been missed but the project is still very much alive and talks are continuing, says John Innes, one of three Lambton County managers leading negotiations with Seasons Retirement Communities.

“Discussions have never fallen through,” said Innes.  “It’s a very complex agreement and it is taking longer than expected.

“I remain positive and confident we will go to county council with a proposal, possibly in April,” he said.

Seasons Retirement Communities purchased Bayside Centre in the heart of Sarnia’s downtown in 2017 and announced intentions to begin a complete redevelopment of the 3.5-hectare property by fall 2018.

But redevelopment hinges on the company also purchasing the land underneath the former mall.  The land is owned by the city, which has agreed to sell it for $1 million, but only once an agreement is reached with Lambton County on a new lease for 55,000 square feet of office space.

For years, about 200 county employees have worked in shared services at the existing building, where an Eaton’s store once operated. Lambton’s social services and provincial offences are there, and the county subcontracts space for provincial partners such as Service Ontario.

Seasons has indicated its plan is to move the county’s shared services to new offices in the south end.

Lambton County is looking for along-term lease that can be renewed, said Warden Bill Weber.

“It’s a complicated commercial lease,” he said.  “We want to make sure we get it right.”

Weber is also optimistic an agreement will be struck.

“Everyone wants this to move forward,” he said.

Mike Lavallee

Seasons’ project will have a “very positive impact on the overall redevelopment of the entire site,” says company CEO Mike Lavallee.

In an email to The Journal, Lavallee said he believes a final agreement is near.

“Our negotiations may have taken longer than expected but we felt it critical that we reach an agreement that met all the priorities for all parties,” Lavallee said.

“We are very thankful to the county staff that has worked diligently on this initiative.”

Seasons has said it plans to invest $40 million in downtown commercial and residential development, including a 12-storey retirement home on the mall site.

In addition to the former mall site, Seasons purchased the strip of stores – except the vacant RBC bank building- that line the east side of Christina between George and Lochiel streets.

Plans have been revised numerous times, however the last public update involved demolition of the mall’s north end for the 12-storey tower. The tower will have retail space on the ground floor facing Christina Street and 140 to 160 suites for a retirement complex with independent living, supported housing and memory care services.

Construction of the retirement home is slated for 2020.

On the negotiation front, Innes said progress is being made, albeit slowly, and he remains optimistic.

“There’s nothing in the way that I’d call a showstopper,” he said.  “Everyone is coming to the table and we are working for an agreement that is in the best interests of the county and its taxpayers.

“There’s a healthy exchange going on right now.”