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Prime waterfront land sits empty

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Cathy Dobson

It seem the only interest in a prime piece of downtown waterfront these days is coming from provocative graffiti artists and the odd gaggle of geese.

The waterlogged acreage across from St. Andrew’s Church has been enclosed in chain link fence for at least a decade, after the old Sarnia Gazette building on the site was demolished.

It’s the last piece of vacant land on the west side of Front Street and should be ripe for development.

So what’s up with that?

Plenty of developers have eyed the property over the years, making pitches for apartment or condo projects.

Around 2006, an Ottawa man demolished the Gazette building at 275 Front St. with plans to construct a 15-storey condo highrise.

He completed an environmental assessment and spent $500,000 on cleanup. He also spent $400,000 on shoring and installed water and sewer services.

What’s more, he hired a contractor who began driving piles 140 feet into the ground to support the building. About 180 of the planned 340 piles were in place when the developer ran out of money.

By then, pre-sales of condos worth about $12 million had been confirmed. Those who pre-purchased were reimbursed and the land went back on the market at a list price of $1.35 million.

In 2008, The Tricar Group of London purchased the site and still owns it today.

At the time, Tricar President Joe Carapella said his company would build two highrises “of some kind” in Sarnia, one on the former Gazette property and an apartment building at the corner of Front and London Road.

The $30-million apartment building went ahead and opened in 2010. Tricar also built a condo highrise at 350 Front. But the site at 275 Front remains vacant and has turned into a seasonal pond punctuated by rusty pilings sticking in the air.

“We definitely plan on building some sort of development there,” Tricar’s Adam Carapella told The Journal last week.

“Whether it’s a rental or condo highrise, that’s not been determined yet and there’s no timing on it,” he said.

Real estate broker Doug Bain of Royal LePage Key Realty said his company was involved at one time.

“When Tricar bought it, we were hired to market condos there and even got a model suite set up,” Bain said.  “But other projects in Ontario took priority with Tricar and we never used the site.

More residential development is important to the core, he added.

“Downtown needs more people living there. It would be a tremendous boost.”

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