Core values: Young mom invests lottery windfall in Sarnia’s downtown

Downtown buildings in rough shape, like this one at 171-175 Christina St. North, attracted a young woman looking for a place to invest lottery winnings. Cathy Dobson

Cathy Dobson

One of the most successful redevelopments in downtown Sarnia belongs to a young woman who used her parent’s lottery win to buy real estate on Christina and Front streets.

Celina Hines could have been spent the windfall on any number of things but chose to bet on historic but dilapidated buildings.

“There is a tremendous economic upside to redeveloping buildings that have been neglected,” said Hines. “The final product has character, charm and appeal to the tenants that ultimately rent the spaces.

“Buildings that needed complete overhauls have been attractive to me.”

Three years ago the married mom of two young children bought 145 Christina St. North, which runs right through to 150 Front St.

It took more than a year and about $1.5 million to buy and redevelop the property into nine one-and-two bedroom luxury apartments, with ground floor commercial space.

“All of the commercial space is occupied by a real estate sales company, a legal firm and a men’s clothing store,” said Hines. “All apartments are leased out with a waiting list … it’s a complete success.

“My experience with the residential units downtown has shown that the demand is greater than the supply.  People really love the unique spaces and the urban vibe.”

In the end, “145 Christina’s renovation budget were higher than expected but the return on investment is higher than I expected,” she said.

“There were some stressful times along the way.  However, this is a building that the tenants and myself show great pride in now and I find that very rewarding.”

As work wound down on that project Hines turned her sights north on Christina to the red brick building immediately adjacent to Scotiabank. Three commercial stores, numbered 171 to 175, were built in the late 1920s and once housed thriving businesses that have been empty and unmaintained in recent years.

Hines purchased that building too and went to work.

“Having my input for the designs and seeing that come to life has been fulfilling,” she said.  “The projects have been complex, but I was willing to take on the challenge.”

She spent about $100,000 preparing the building for redevelopment and gutting the interior. Engineers made preliminary drawings and reconstruction is ready to go ahead.

But life’s circumstances change. Hines and her husband started a family and their priorities have altered.  The building is now up for sale, listed at $255,000.

“We learned that you really want to be hands-on for these projects, as decisions have to be made regularly during construction,” she said

“(My husband) and I want to focus more on our farm and our family and, as any parent will know, raising kids is a big enough project.”

But her belief in downtown revitalization hasn’t wavered.

Though reluctant to give details, Hines said she owns another downtown building as well as other residential property in Sarnia. She no longer lives in the city but family and friends are here.

“I would certainly encourage others to invest in downtown,” she said. “The area has momentum and the more investment there is the better it gets for everyone involved.

“The properties that I have downtown have turned out to be a great investment and the one I have for sale will be a great investment for someone else.”