A plan by Seasons Retirement Communities of Oakville to “repurpose” Bayside Centre in downtown Sarnia will take five to seven years and cost north of $100 million. Details of the massive project, obtained exclusively by First Monday show a nine storey tower for seniors, a nine storey residential tower, 73,000 square feet for Lambton County shared services, Provincial Court Offices, a medical centre, a restaurant and retail space along north Christina Street.
Plans were to be unveiled to Lambton County Council November 7 but Mike Lavallee, Chief Executive Officer for Seasons says his company is still “nailing down” rent and design for the County space. “We are talking a 20-year deal for tenants and we want to do it once and we want to do it right,” says Lavallee who indicated the project is being pestered by escalating construction costs.
“Since we purchased the mall last year costs have risen sharply and we want to get started but not at the expense of the long-term viability of the project, ” Lavallee told First Monday.
For the County which is in the first phase of the multi – phased project the lease agreement and design go hand in hand says Lavallee who suggests a special meeting of County Council may be necessary before year’s end.
Mayor Mike Bradley says the County is integral to the project and is committed to the downtown but there are a lot of moving parts. “There is a new location inside the Mall and a new lease and it is taking longer than expected”.
He agrees with Lavallee that a special meeting of County Council may be necessary to finalize a deal.
Plans received by First Monday show the main focus is off Lochiel Street with the seniors and residential towers to the north, a substantial pedestrian walkway to the south with public and secure access to County shared and social services and Provincial Offences Court into what was the former A&P Grocery Store.
The retail footprint of the mall will be substantially smaller with just 54,000 square feet allocated in phases.
Bradley views that as fortunate for the City. “Downtown Malls in Ontario are going through a slow death and I’m pleased we are no longer in that business”.
The emphasis by Seasons on senior and residential accommodation coupled with municipal and Provincial office space will make the remaining mall more viable says Bradley. “In addition to bringing people downtown a repurposed Bayside will be a residential and community hub with people who will be there to take advantage of downtown amenities”.
Seasons, which is owned by the Labourer’s International Union Pension Fund has $500 million in assets, $200 million in projects and operates 18 retirement residences in Alberta and Ontario.
The company purchased the leasehold interest in Bayside from Chilton Capital of Toronto for more than $3 million last year. Since then it has offered the City $1 million for the 8.52 acres of property on which the Mall sits. The City has agreed to sell the property subject to Seasons arranging a suitable lease agreement with the County.
Bradley says the new Council will deal with the offer but doesn’t see it as a problem. “Sarnia needs this project, it is a game changer for the City and Seasons is a strong company with a track record and experienced professionals running it”.
With soaring construction costs Lavallee stressed the need to get started and indicated the company wants to be in the ground early next year.
While relocating the County shared services department is in the first phase plans call for a portion of the mall north of Lochiel to be demolished to accommodate a nine- storey 135,000 square foot senior’s tower and 15,000 square feet of retail space in the second phase. Subsequent phases include a 135,000-square foot residential tower, a medical centre, restaurant and more retail.
Opened in 1982 as the Sarnia Eaton Centre with 700 underground parking spaces Bayside thrived for more than two decades before falling on hard times and eventually falling into receivership in 2012.
Ownership changed several times before Seasons purchased the leasehold interest last year and is in the throes of purchasing the City’s interest in the property.
Lavallee says proximity to neighbouring businesses, the downtown, waterfront and Bluewater Health were factors in the company’s decision to buy the mall. Others were a proposed transit hub in the north-east corner of the property and those 700 underground parking spaces that will be available for public use 24 hours a day seven days a week.
“To have 700 parking spaces for theatre, shopping and other uses that will make downtown an even more significant hub” says Lavallee.
Seventy–five full and part time jobs will eventually be created.