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Retirement home firm buying up downtown storefronts

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Cathy Dobson

The Oakville-based company that intends to redevelop Bayside Centre into an assisted living retirement residence has purchased three buildings on Christina Street between George and Lochiel.

“I can confirm that Seasons (Retirement Communities) has acquired the three properties on Christina Street and these will form part of our overall master plan for the Bayside Mall,” CEO Rick Smyth told The Journal.

The project is still in the planning stages so details won’t be available until next year, Smyth said.

Sarnians learned six months ago Seasons had purchased the 3.5-hectare (8.5-acre) mall property in the centre of the downtown. Opened in 1982 as the Sarnia Eaton Centre, the mall thrived, fell on hard times when Eaton’s closed, and slid as occupancy rates fell to 30% and lower.

Numerous owners and wannabe owners have announced redevelopment over the years, but it wasn’t until April and the Seasons purchase that downtown boosters grew optimistic.

Seasons owns 18 retirement residences in Ontario and Alberta, including facilities in Amherstburg, Belle River and Strathroy. The company has said it plans to build a 140-160 suite residence in Sarnia.

Smyth wouldn’t say what will be done with the three properties purchased on Christina Street’s east side.

However, Jim Hall, owner of Sarnia Coin Exchange, said the real estate deal pertaining to his building at 220 Christina St. N. closed in late August and he’s been asked to vacate by late February.

Owner Jim Hall plans to relocate the Sarnia Coin Exchange to a new Christina Street location early next year after selling his building to Seasons Retirment Communities.
Cathy Dobson

“I’m very excited about it,” said the long-time downtown merchant. “I’m satisfied with the deal I made and (Seasons) are good people doing good things.

“Part of the reason I agreed to sell is that it’s going to be a really positive thing,” Hall said.

He has made plans to move the Sarnia Coin Exchange to leased space up the street at 174 Christina St. N.

“I’m aiming to be moved in early 2018,” he said. “I love this city and I’m really pleased to see this kind of development in our downtown.”

Immediately south of the Sarnia Coin Exchange, tenant Ali Khan owns and operates Your Highness. He learned three weeks ago the building he leases had sold to Seasons.

“We just moved here and did two months of renovations,” Khan said. “We don’t know where we’re moving and we haven’t been told to leave. But I understand from the CEO that they want to tear it down,” he said.

Mark Elliott, who was renovating it before Seasons came to town, owned the building north of Hall. A real estate sign posted at 224 Christina confirms it has sold.

Realtor Kenn Poore said he could confirm 224 Christina, 220 Christina and 218 Christina have been sold, but added he has not been involved in any discussions with the RBC bank on the corner.

RBC announced in August that it will close its downtown branch in 2018 and is building a new branch at Lambton Mall.

Attempts to contact RBC representatives about the property went unanswered.

At the time of the Seasons’ announcement in April, CEO Smyth said the mall’s redevelopment will create at least 75 full-time and part-time jobs.

“We’re not real estate speculators. We run retirement communities,” he told council at the time. “We’re in for the long haul here.”

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