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Watt's On Barrie: Barrie Central site developer brings history-filled places into the future

HIP Developments has a track record of taking once significant sites and injecting new life into them

Welcome to Barrie, HIP Developments.

They’re the newest company to take on a site that’s not only challenging to grow and make sparkle.

On Jan. 31, the deal on the Barrie Central/Prince of Wales site closed. Now HIP Developments, a company that’s well liked in the Kitchener-Waterloo area for its innovative redevelopments, is taking on the challenging yet strategic site on the western edge of downtown.

We don’t know much about the plans for the development which continues to carry the Barrie Central name, other than it will include “modern, bayside residences.”

HIP has an incredible track record and neighbours like what they do. 

In my hometown of Galt (now a part of Cambridge), HIP is creating a lot of excitement with a project known as the Gaslight District. The project, which will force a popular outlet shopping area, to close to make way for a development that integrates heritage details – and there are lots of them in this limestone-building area that pays homage to the town’s Scottish roots – while blending residential towers, boutiques, restaurants and offices in a neighbourhood with several heritage attractions and a new theatre.

In fact writing this about Galt is somewhat weird for me, since I couldn’t wait to leave the small city to explore life. I always said Galt – still home to my siblings and their many grandchildren – is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

In fact, I chose Barrie. I love that we have a great waterfront that includes a lake for swimming and boating.

But in the years I’ve covered Barrie, I discovered we also have a city administration that isn’t the most progressive nor welcoming to developers.

Consider this week’s shutting out of Osmington, which purchased the old fairgrounds and raceway. The company has tried twice to develop the land, but external factors it couldn't control killed those ideas: first, the economic downturn a decade ago killed the equestrian-themed plaza, then the city’s failure to effectively advocate for more university spots was undoubtedly a factor in Laurentian University’s failure to get approval for more student learning spaces. Osmington needed the city to stop stalling on widening Essa Road, as prospective tenants are not signing on with that continuing uncertainty that will almost certainly mean construction, delays and less accessibility once they open for business.

And Osmington is only the latest developer who has felt the non-progressive approach and stalling criticisms of Barrie, which quite frankly must begin to think more progressively if the community is to truly become the regional and only urban growth centre in Central Ontario envisions it to be.

There will also undoubtedly be citizens who want to see the Fisher auditorium or other elements preserved at all costs. And although this is understandable, it is not practical. It’s difficult to tear off a piece of a building, interconnected with heating, hydro and water, and make it self-sufficient and energy efficient at a reasonable cost.

The Barrie Central/Prince of Wales site itself is challenging to develop, too, partially because of the creek that flows through the site, now hidden in a buried culvert, which Barrie wants opened up. It’ll be beautiful – but this move reduces the developable area. And there’s possible contamination on the site, considering the tanning industry that once flourished in that area of town.

This is Barrie’s chance to show it wants to be progressive and be rewarded with a project that will not only add to the neighbourhood but also help tie the downtown with the waterfront and make the city sparkle.

Let’s hope the city welcomes HIP. Otherwise, perhaps I should reconsider moving back to Galt, where I can see new life being injected into my old stomping grounds, as a new vibrant neighbourhood and shopping destination that combines the old limestone buildings and factories with modern buildings that reflect our time.


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