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Orillia's waterfront redevelopment will be 'revolutionary,' councillor says

Orillia council met Friday to confirm agreement of purchase and sale; Coun. Jay Fallis was lone dissenter, saying 8-storey building would 'negatively impact' community

Let the “renaissance” begin.

That’s how Orillia Mayor Steve Clarke is describing the waterfront redevelopment project after city council opted to embrace FRAM Building Group’s proposal.

“Their vision aligns with what we want to do down there. This is going to bring hundreds of people who will live there,” Clarke said, adding the mixture of residential, commercial and public spaces “ticks all of the boxes.”

FRAM and TPI Acquisitions were short-listed for the project, and both were “high-quality proponents,” Clarke said.

An evaluation team eventually recommended FRAM, and council agreed.

“I am excited by this. FRAM brings with them a strong track record of building communities, of sustainable developments,” Clarke said, noting the company won EnerQuality’s Green Builder of the Year award in 2019.

It will lead to the redevelopment of “another significant brownfield,” he said, noting FRAM has experience in that area.

During a special council meeting Friday, council passed a bylaw to confirm an agreement of purchase and sale — of 70 Front St. N. and surrounding land — to FRAM.

The amount of the contract will not be made public until the sale is finalized. That is expected to happen in late 2021 or early 2022, Clarke said.

Coun. Jay Fallis was the only one to vote against the bylaw. He took issue with the part of FRAM’s proposal that includes an eight-storey residential/commercial building at Coldwater and Front streets.

“A change of this nature to our downtown is going to negatively impact our community,” he said, adding it will make it feel like a bigger city. “That is something that I cannot support and I think it’s the wrong move of council.”

Building an eight-storey structure there would require a zoning amendment, Clarke responded, which would mean council and residents would be able to have their say during a public meeting.

Other council members spoke enthusiastically about the project.

“There are many downtowns across the province … that are either struggling or are completely dead. This is something that’s going to help us make sure we’re not one of those communities,” said Coun. Mason Ainsworth.

“This is going to be revolutionary for the downtown core and it’s going to support us for years to come.”

Coun. Tim Lauer said the project will “change the narrative” of the area, creating a connection between downtown and the waterfront and doing away with “retail space that is basically abandoned” at the Front Street plaza.

“This is going to put people in that area. It’s going to put a vibrancy in that area,” he said.

The development will lead to an increase in the tax base, Coun. Ralph Cipolla said, which will “hopefully keep our taxes at an affordable rate.”

It will also “increase parkland within the area of Centennial Drive,” he said.

One of the main reasons for the project, and for the city purchasing the Metro plaza, was to extend Coldwater Street to the waterfront, opening up the view of the lake. Metro will remain where it is, but the rest of the plaza will be demolished. That work is expected to begin in October.

During Friday’s meeting, council also voted to allow detailed design work to begin on the burying of overhead power lines along Centennial Drive — which will be realigned — from Mississaga Street to just south of Brant Street. That design work comes at a cost of $75,000.

Hydro One has estimated the cost of burying the lines would be $2.4 million. That was a Class C estimate, meaning it was determined during the project’s preliminary stages, and has an accuracy rate of plus or minus 50 per cent.

Now that council has allowed for the detailed design work to begin, Hydro One will provide a more accurate estimate, which will come before council during budget discussions later this year, with options for ways to fund it.

More details about the waterfront redevelopment project can be found here.