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Khan tries to get councillors on board with marketplace vision for bus terminal

Former Burger King location on Maple Avenue has been vacant for years, with the city missing out on potential lease revenue

Former councillor Arif Khan brought a whopper of an idea to city hall Monday night. 

At this week's building committee meeting, Khan presented a plan for a marketplace in the long-vacant, first-floor space at the Barrie Transit Terminal on Maple Avenue. The 3,000-square-foot space was formerly occupied by Burger King. 

Khan says he has been working with "many interested parties" on a concept, with people representing sectors such as construction, real estate, design, agri-business and the restaurant industry.

The business plan, developed over the last few months, includes possibly having a rotating series of start-ups and local businesses on site trying new concepts, said Khan.

"There are several people and business owners who have expressed interest in being part of the concept," he added. 

His plan for the empty space includes private-public partnership, with the municipality putting up $250,000 to renovated the city-owned building. Khan says if the marketplace idea fails, the city would still see its building upgraded. 

"This project will have to prove itself, otherwise it doesn't live on," Khan said. 

Conversely, if the project takes off and is successful, the city could decide to invest in the marketplace. 

The city is not being asked for any financial support to cover operations of the proposed marketplace, said Khan, adding a private board would be set up to manage operations and tenancies. 

The plan includes a 42-month "proof-of-concept" approach, during which time the board would receive free rent, and after which point Khan believes it would be self-sustaining. That would include six months to fix up the building and then three years for the group to show their plan works to make the terminal site a downtown "attraction" and revitalize an area "which is in dire need."

"It's not that we'll need three years to finish, but we'll certainly need a couple of years to get the ball rolling and to see success happen," he said.

The group would also look to raise a minimum of $100,000, said Khan, noting the Busch Family Foundation has already pledged $75,000.

Rick Pews, the city's corporate facilities director, indicated a market-value assessment done in 2018 determined the vacant space should draw between $18 and $22 per square foot, based primarily on the view from the building. That works out to around $60,000 per year. 

The second floor of the transit building is occupied by the Sandbox Centre, a place to bring business people and leaders together to share ideas and knowledge. 

With the city eventually moving its transit terminal to the Allandale Waterfront GO station — including $9 million in financial support from the province — there have been plans to turn the property into a downtown market for a few years. 

Burger King left the terminal at the end of 2014 (the faint outline of the previously lighted letters is still visible) and the idea to bring a market to the property has been around even longer. 

Khan says he doesn't believe a restaurant is well-suited to the location. Rather, he says the city should delay putting a "narrow-focused tenant" in the vacant space, because it needs "a catalyst."

"There's nothing unique about a big-chain coffee shop or a restaurant," added Khan, who served on city council from 2012 until 2018. "If there was so much demand, they'd already be doing it."

Similar to what happened with the redevelopment at Meridian Place through a private-public partnership and the city's ongoing plans to redevelop W.A. Fisher Auditorium at the former Barrie Central Collegiate site, Khan says the terminal building — which is located in a block almost halfway between the two — is the "missing link."

"What I would like to see here is a solution that has long been asked for in the community, which is how to revitalize an area that has been quite depressed," Khan told BarrieToday. "It would really finish a job that was started back on my days with council, as early as 2012, to create connectivity. Right now, we have this large gap."

The city's long-term waterfront master plan includes connecting the downtown to the lakeshore, as well as east and west along Dunlop Street, which is currently undergoing a large-scale revitalization. A pair of residential/commercial twin towers have also been proposed for the same block along Dunlop. 

Khan says the plan also ties in with council's strategic priorities, such as having more people living downtown and creating a "vibrant space" with safer streets, which he admitted is "an uphill battle."

"I think we can all agree that traditional approaches to loosely 'cleaning up' up a neighbourhood have not worked," he said. "Heavy-handed law enforcement doesn't work. ... We have to give people a reason to come down. When it's a ghost town, unsavoury activity happens, that's just a fact of life."

The city plans to hire a real-estate agent to market the terminal site and look for potential tenants on a relatively short-term basis. The window for agents to apply closed last Friday.

Dawn McAlpine, the city's general manager of community and corporate services, said staff have been approached by a "number of potential tenants" over the last few months. The options determined to have "best value" would be brought to council for consideration. 

Khan says that revelation doesn't change his approach to the marketplace idea. 

"In fact, it only reinvigorates me to come forward with an amazing proposal," Khan told BarrieToday, adding he understands city staff also has a job to do because they have a city asset sitting empty and failing to bring in any revenue. 

Mayor Jeff Lehman noted a similar idea was raised a couple of years ago and appeared to be gaining momentum, but added he also sees potential in Khan's proposal. He said Khan's new "twist" could carry a lot of value. 

Khan says he hopes to make a more detailed presentation to general committee sometime before the summer break.

Raymond Bowe

About the Author: Raymond Bowe

Raymond is an award-winning journalist who has been reporting from Simcoe County since 2000
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