Things are about to get a lot different downtown.
An entire block of Dunlop Street West south-side storefronts, including two of Barrie’s former theatres, will soon be gone to make way for what will be - for some time period at least - two of the city’s tallest structures.
The development promises to transform the site that includes 39-67 Dunlop Street West and 35-37 Mary Street, located north of the Barrie Transit facility.
Barrie Waterfront Developments Inc. (c/o Weston Consulting Planning and Urban Design) has submitted a site-plan control application for the proposed development.
It will include a mixed-use, high rise development consisting of two residential towers comprised of 495 units, including a 30-storey building (phase 1) and 34-storey building (phase 2) atop a six-storey podium with ground floor retail/commercial uses and parking on levels two to six. A walkway would be located between the buildings to provide access to the bus station building (there are also plans for a farmers' market at the terminal) and to the waterfront.
Councillors approved construction of the twin-tower project in December 2019.
“This project continues to move through the various stages of a development application,” Michelle Banfield, the city’s director of development services, tells BarrieToday.
“Providing a mix of land uses in the downtown and providing services for existing residents, while also increasing the number of people living in the downtown, is in keeping with council’s strategic priorities to support a vibrant and safe downtown.”
That much-anticipated vibrancy is on hold, for now.
A November 2019 BarrieToday story identified around a dozen businesses at the time that would be affected by the project, including the Uptown Theater (home of the Barrie Film Festival), the History Barbershop, The Market, the Grand Theatre, One Love Island Cuisine, Mike's Barber Shop, Easy Livin', Payday Loans and Avail Cannabis Clinics.
At the end of the block was (and still is) a vacant lot, while around the corner on Mary Street were The Sewing House and Mea's Place restaurant.
COVID has wreaked its havoc and today, only Payday Loans remains.
And while the businesses are gone, so too will the buildings they - and tenants living above some of them - once inhabited.
The wrecking ball isn’t far off.
“Demolition of the existing structures is planned to take place soon. Appropriate fencing and securing of the site prior to demolition will be the first signs of change in the area,” Banfield says.
That can’t come too soon for Marco Ormonde, owner of The North Restaurant for the last 15 years. He’s been watching the area around his Mary Street establishment change during that time and says bring on the project ASAP.
“I’m excited and looking forward to it,” he tells BarrieToday. “The fact that we get to have more people come live downtown will bring more shops downtown; we’ll open up grocery stores downtown and other shops and it will be a life down here.”
With Lakeshore Drive condos visible from his first- and second-floor patios and acknowledging other big upcoming developments in the city’s core, Ormonde says intensification is the way to go.
“Density is a good thing because it’s not taking up other parts of land (elsewhere) but it’s all bringing more people together in one area,” he says. “Downtown Barrie for sure is one of the best places to be. It’s got a beautiful waterfront, shops and restaurants, and everything within walking distance.
“You can listen to music, have an appetizer at one restaurant and a main course at another and dessert somewhere else and maybe a few drinks and then walk the waterfront.”
And what about those empty Dunlop Street West storefronts?
“Most of the shops are empty right now, so with having ‘the towers’ coming down here, there will be more clientele and those shops (that remain viable) can operate better,” Ormonde suggests.
The 39-67 Dunlop Street West and 35-37 Mary Street development has not been without its critics, however.
Allandale resident Cathy Colebatch, a staunch supporter of protecting the city's heritage, told BarrieToday in June 2019 she was excited to see development coming to the beleaguered area of downtown, but not at that location.
"The development itself is exciting," she said at the time, "(but) I really have a problem with us demolishing buildings to put in new buildings. We have lots of vacant space around Barrie.”
Concerns were also voiced during the public-meeting portion of the development about people being displaced who were living above the soon-to-be demolished stores.
“The city would not know the details and nature of the agreements for those who currently live in these existing structures,” Banfield says. “Relocation will be required. The City of Barrie does not provide housing services. People that may need housing assistance should contact the County of Simcoe for options on social and affordable housing."
To contact the county about housing, click here.
For his part, Ormonde is looking on the bright side.
“I’m definitely optimistic about what’s going on, not just this development coming downtown but all the developments that are coming downtown. There has to be optimism after everything we went through,” he says. “This side of town (Dunlop Street West downtown) still needs a little bit more love but I think the city is getting to it.”
Memories of downtown movie scene
Movie memories are all that remain of Barrie’s once-thriving downtown cinema scene.
The Dunlop Street West development between Maple Avenue and Mary Street will see the demolition of the last two theatres - named the Grand Theatre and Uptown Theatre at the time they closed - one of which was home to the annual Barrie Film Festival.
“The Barrie Film Festival has many fond memories of the Uptown Theatre (formerly called the Imperial 8 Cinemas) as we screened there from 1995 to 2020,” says festival executive director Claudine Benoit. “We had our first screening in November 1995 with an independent film called SMOKE starring Harvey Keitel, William Hurt, Forest Whitaker and Stockard Channing.”
In 2013, the festival started a 10-year lease for two auditoriums at Uptown Theatre, but terminated the lease last year.
“We loved screening in the downtown and all the support we have received over the years from the merchants and restauranteurs,” Benoit says.
“Although it was a sad day moving out of Uptown Theatre, we recognize that development is part of progress and that Barrie is in need of housing,” she adds. “The new development will be a modern addition to the Barrie skyline and we wish them the best.”
Benoit and her team are working on establishing new venue relationships and future screening opportunities.
“Planning is in the works for our annual fall film festival and we’ll return to in-person screenings when it is safe to do so,” Benoit says, adding she encourages everyone to support the local drive-in and movie-theatre scene “as we need shared cinematic experiences in our lives.”
The festival website has updates on virtual, outdoor, drive-in and in-theatre screenings.