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Health centre taking shape in former Habitat Restore building

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A redevelopment strategy that converts aging commercial buildings into medical centres is paying off for Sarnia’s Longo Holdings.

“It’s a good news story,” says Lou Longo, who is wrapping up of his third reconstruction using the formula.

Longo has already redeveloped the former Carruther’s Clinic on Pontiac Drive and leased it to a pharmacy, the Rapids Family Health Team and a government Community Care Access Centre.

Over at 429 Exmouth St., Longo converted a former bowling alley into space for the West Lambton Community Health Centre, a lab and a pharmacy.

Now, the former Habitat for Humanity Restore in the Keelan’s Plaza at 460 Christina St. North is being redesigned for tenants that include the North Lambton Cardio Rehab Facility, the Rapids Family Health Team, PharmaChoice pharmacy and several doctor suites.

The building is deceptively large and incorporates three floors and 25,000-square-feet, said Longo. Once the exterior is overhauled this spring the cost will exceed $2.5 million.

“We took it right back to the shell and put in new HVAC system, new windows, new lighting, new walls, washrooms, and an elevator,” he said.

The front retail space is dedicated to Andrew Ibrahim’s PharmaChoice pharmacy expected to open this week.

Ibrahim also owns the PharmaChoice franchise in Longo’s building on Pontiac Drive.

Dr. Frank Spano, a dermatologist, has chosen to practice in his hometown and opened his new office at 460 Christina a few weeks ago.

“Working in both the hospital and the community health centres, I realized the dire need for dermatology (in Sarnia) after the retirement of Dr. Aurea Jose,” Dr. Spano said.

He studied medicine at the University of Western Ontario, trained in family medicine, then went on to study internal medicine at the University of Toronto and dermatology at the University of Ottawa.

Longo has room to build medical offices for six more physicians or health professionals and is looking for tenants, he said.

He has ensured enough parking by buying two empty lots on Dundas Street, adjacent to the back parking lot, and creating 48 additional spots for a total of 125 on-site parking spaces.

“If the building has good bones and a good existing location, changing its use makes sense,” he said.

While Sarnia has too much vacant retail space there’s a demand for medical-type uses, said Longo.

“We’ve got 10 new doctors that were just announced by Bluewater Health. I just keep building space for doctors because we will need it.”

Phase Two of the project begins next month with exterior work to modernize and landscape the building.

Longo said he has no plans to change the rest of the Keelan’s Plaza that extends to the north. Current tenants will remain including Milano’s Pizza, Jamaican Sun, Zen Float Centre, Delmar Cargo and Results Fitness.

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Exterior artist concept of 460 Christina St. N., formerly the Habitat Restore, which is being redeveloped for medical uses.
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