Biggest downtown residential development in 25 years sign of things to come — Marra

As many as 100 more residential units are expected for the core, on top of the 24-unit building welcomed Monday as the first major project taking advantage of Windsor’s new downtown revitalization plan.

Developer Peter Valente told members of the city’s planning, heritage and economic development standing committee that if the incentive-laden Community Improvement Plan hadn’t been approved last fall, his building on Ouellette Avenue wouldn’t be moving ahead. He hopes to start construction in June on the first significant residential development in the downtown in at least 25 years.

The CIP provides a $2,500 grant for every new residential unit he builds up to $50,000, plus there’s a tax rebate program that gives back the difference between the municipal taxes he’s paying now on vacant land ($7,145 annually) and what he’ll pay once it’s built ($59,765) for five years and possibly 10. That adds up to a $263,100 savings for five years and $526,200 for 10.

“This development would not go forward without the incentives, point-blank,” said Valente. “There’s just no way I could take the risk.”

While the city is estimating the project’s worth at $3.6 million, he believes it will be closer to $5 million. Coun. Hilary Payne congratulated Valente on his project, welcoming it as the first application of its kind to the CIP.“If anything is going to save the downtown, or improve it, this will do it,” Payne said of the CIP. He noted that Valente’s site on the west side of Ouellette Avenue north of Erie Street has been vacant — its former buildings demolished — since the 1980s. “I think that’s pretty significant, that after 30 years, something is happening on Ouellette Avenue.

Coun. Bill Marra, who chairs the committee, expressed excitement over such applications coming forward just months after the CIP was approved. He’s been told there are several more applications on the way.

“There could be as many as 100 more (residential) units if they’re all approved under the plan,” he told reporters after the meeting. “This is exciting and you can expect a few other applications coming very, very soon.”

Ones already made public include  ambitious commercial/residential redevelopment plans for the Old Fish Market building at Chatham and Ferry streets, and the long-vacant Don Cherry’s on Pelissier Street. But Marra said there are additional projects in the pipeline, located mainly along the Ouellette and Pelissier corridors.

A second application to the CIP was also recommended by the committee Monday, this for a facade improvement to the Christian Science Reading Room at 415 Pelissier St..  The $9,613 project is actually taking advantage of two separate plans. Almost half the cost ($4,567) will be paid by the Downtown Windsor Business Improvement Association’s facade improvement plan, then Windsor will take care of 50 per cent of the remaining cost ($2,522), leaving the church with only a $2,523 bill.

The CIP, several years in the making, has dozens of incentives focused on reviving the downtown primarily by attracting hundreds of new residents to move there.

It offers grants of $5,000 per unit to encourage landlords to convert vacant space in the upper floors of existing buildings into residential; grants worth $2,500 per unit up to $50,000 to build new residential projects; grants covering half the costs up to $20,000 for facade improvements to help businesses make a better first impression; and the tax rebate grants that are probably the biggest incentive, translating into hundreds of thousands of dollars saved for large developments.

Marra said while the rebate is a big savings for developers, it actually doesn’t cost the city anything because it comes from added tax revenue that would not have otherwise materialized.

The committee on Monday recommended Valente get the rebate for the first five years. He has submitted an additional application for the city to declare his building a “catalyst” project which would stretch the rebate to 10 years. He said getting that catalyst designation is “essential to the project.” He wouldn’t comment on whether he’d proceed without it.

He believes there’s a need for new housing in the downtown. Though it would be a condo project, the one-bedroom and two-bedroom units with balconies would be rented out, to students now attending university and college in the downtown, hospital employees and Caesars Windsor workers. The building will be designed along the lines of the older buildings along Ouellette and Pelissier, he said.

“I think it’s going to fit nicely in the area.”

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