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Developer’s downtown plans hit a snag

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Cathy Dobson

Sarnia’s hopes and dreams of a major downtown redevelopment triggered by the recent purchase of the Bayside Mall have hit a snag.

The scheduled closing dates on five properties on Christina and Lochiel streets have been delayed and the transactions are on hold.

But developer Gordon Laschinger said delays are not unusual with large commercial realty transactions, and he’s currently awaiting environmental test results.

“Absolutely, I plan to go ahead,” he told The Journal.

The properties involved are the Taylor furniture building at 136 and 140 Christina St.); The Coin Exchange at 220 Christina St.; the Sarnia Christian Fellowship church at 218 Christina St.; The Ravenous Gastropub at 146 and 148 Christina St.; and a two-storey white building adjacent the former Industry Theatre on Lochiel.

“It’s entirely my fault,” said Laschinger. “I thought we’d get away without doing Phase 2 (environmental assessment) testing. Unfortunately, there were issues with the Phase 1 draft reports that suggested problems that gave rise for me to say Phase 2 testing is necessary.

“The last thing you want to do is take a property and find out you have a big (environmental) problem.”

The five properties are part of a multi-million-dollar redevelopment unveiled by Laschinger last fall.  At the time, he represented Wilsondale Assets Management, a Vaughan-based company with a track record of redeveloping underperforming malls in Southwestern Ontario.

Laschinger’s business relationship with his Wilsondale partner has since dissolved.

“We decided it was better to take certain assets and split up our holdings,” he said, stressing it was an amicable parting of the ways.

“Wilsondale will still provide some limited asset management,” he said.

Meanwhile, Laschinger has set up other companies to take ownership of the Bayside mall, Drawbridge Inn, and Industry Theatre property on which he has proposed a highrise, as well as the five smaller property acquisitions that are still pending.

Kenn Poore of DTZ Barnicke, a Sarnia realtor who also owns downtown property, confirmed he is representing Laschinger.

The request for a Phase 2 Environment Assessment on the same day that at least one of the deals was to close this week isn’t anything that could derail Laschinger’s big plans for downtown, Poore said.

“It’s a minor, last minute issue, not a deal breaker,” Poore said.  “It’s unusual but not unheard of either.”

Poore said he understands that “last minute delays can cause some trepidation. But from everything I know, there’s nothing to worry about.”

The sale of the Bayside Mall and Industry Theatre buildings closed last year, and the Drawbridge deal closed March 11.

The five outstanding properties will move ahead provided the environmental assessments don’t reveal soil contamination, Poore said.

“Obviously, I still believe this is a very exciting project,” he added. “What I know of this purchaser, I am confident (the five deals) will happen.”

Laschinger wouldn’t confirm specifically what prompted the additional environmental study following the Phase 1 assessment.

“It was me who determined it would be prudent to get it done,” he said. “We’ll know the timelines soon, but, in my experience, it can take around six weeks.”

Laschinger is now the principal of the company that owns the largely vacant Bayside Centre adjacent to Christina Street.  It sold for $1.75 million, with another $1.3 million paid to the city in back taxes. That cheque has already arrived at city hall.

Laschinger has also undertaken structural improvements to the mall.

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