Property Biz Canada

Historic Hurdles All Cleared For Port Dalhousie Waterfront Project

It’s been eight years in the making, but the developers behind the ambitious mixed-used Port Dalhousie project are close to breaking ground.

The $120-million Port Place development on the shores of Lake Ontario between Hamilton and Buffalo is notable for several reasons: the historic nature of the site, the regulatory and resident challenges the development faced, its scale given the area and the one-of-a-kind setting the project offers.

“It’s a very unique project with very little competition anywhere in southern Ontario,” said Brian Tilley, vice president of sales and marketing for Port Dalhousie Vitalization Corp. (PDVC).

While the GTA is now festooned with lakefront condo developments, the area surrounding the Port Place project’s planned 80-unit, 17-storey condo tower is all but barren of towers. “There is nothing really from Oakville or Burlington along the shore of Lake Ontario,” said Tilley. “Waterfront property even in Toronto is very scarce and to get approvals is onerous to say the least.”

Port Dalhousie, now part of St. Catharines, has a two-century history that dates back to the time it served as the terminus of the initial trio of Welland canals which were built from 1820 on. It changed over the years from a busy port to its current status as a historic area that is a favorite summer destination for people in the area, but remains an unknown “hidden gem” to most people in southern Ontario, said Tilley.

History Hurdles

Because the Port Dalhousie project is on a designated historic site, getting development approval was an eight-year ordeal with the OMB and faced significant opposition from local residents who didn’t want development to exceed three stories.

The ambitious project has also resulted in some corporate casualties. Development was delayed two years ago after the original PDVC partners were stumped as the mandated underground parking complex had to be built below the area’s water table. The partners called in Landform Canada Construction owner Derek Martin, an experienced bridge builder, who was used to the challenges of construction in and near water. Martin bought out PDVC’s original partners last year and is now the principal party behind the development.

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The project faces other odd challenges. PDVC has to move a small, but historic stone jail during construction before later plunking it back down in its original location after the development is finished, which will be directly adjacent to the entrance to the condo tower.

“It’s a great little building and I think that kind of symbolizes all the challenges that we have had with the project but things like that are part of the character that makes this site what it is,” said Tilley.

Location, Location, Location

All that time and effort appear to be worth it. The development is strategically located on a spit of land with water on three sides, surrounded by parkland, a marina and yacht club. It’s just a 30-minute drive from the Buffalo Airport (an hour from Toronto) and in the middle of Ontario’s wine country and near the live theatre mecca of Stratford.

The condo complex is about 30% sold currently, Tilley said, with buyers made up mainly of local residents and empty nesters or retirees.

The Michael Kirkland (Kirkland Partnership) designed condo tower has unit prices from $349,900 for a 565-square-foot suite to as high as $3 million for a 3,000-square-foot penthouse. The developer is in discussions with one potential buyer for a 5,000 sq. ft. penthouse unit. The average suite size will be 1,100 square feet and the average unit price is approximately $700,000.

“The people that live down there know about it but it is a hidden secret from Toronto,” said Tilley. “Most of our buyers right now are local, we have had some people coming from Toronto who are retired. Our target market is much more retirees than commuters” to the GTA.

Billed by PDVC as the biggest private development in Niagara in the last 25 years, it is also touted as the only multi-use development between Burlington and Buffalo.

PDVC’s deal with the OMB calls for the developer to build most of the project all at once: the condo tower, a 104-room boutique hotel which will include the preserved facade of the Austin Hotel, as well as a live theatre facility. After that, it will build 35,000 sq. ft. of retail/commercial space as the final part of the project.

The Port Place project is adjacent to Lakeside Park’s historically designated carousel, and near boutique shops and restaurants.

The developer is negotiating with hotel and theatre operators and requires more condo sales before it goes ahead with the site.

Construction will take two years and PDVC expects to break ground in October.

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