Collier Centre being built, occupied
Fortress Real Development has the OK to change some of Collier Centre's commercial footage to living space, to convert the officer tower and a portion of the second floor retail space to 112 units. MARK WANZEL photo
Five years in and Collier Centre's glass remains half-full in downtown Barrie, says Mayor Jeff Lehman.
While construction delays, an ownership change and trouble attracting commercial tenants have plagued the project, it is being built and occupied at 90 Collier and 55 Mulcaster streets.
“To me the most important thing is that in the end this becomes a complex that adds to a key location in downtown Barrie and provides the food store that we need downtown,” Lehman said. “The retail space needs to fill in and the tower conversion will bring additional residents, which I think will make it more of a success when complete. The key question around the grocery store remains to be seen.”
Sobey's was to have a grocery store in Collier Centre, but it has not committed to leasing the space.
Project owner Fortress Real Development has the OK to change some of Collier Centre's commercial footage to living space. City councillors gave initial approval Monday to convert the officer tower and a portion of the second floor retail space to 112 units.
Fortress says it will maintain ownership and rent the new residential units, say city staff, who note the commercial office and retail space has remained vacant and un-leased.
Lehman says this former-city property was identified for development more than five years ago because Foodland was likely to close there, and a grocery store is needed downtown, plus its large parking lot was valuable property that could be redeveloped for a better use.
“I think the most important thing to the community is the grocery store,” he said. “If that yet happens, I think on balance it will be a success for downtown and the city. If not, there will still have been many positive impacts, but we will not have seen the anchor commercial use that was planned.”
Looking strictly at dollars, the conversion of the second tower to residential will mean several million dollars more paid to the city in fees and taxes.
“So the taxpayer will actually be better off with the residential conversion than with the original mix of uses,” Lehman said. “Certainly the additional tax revenues from the condos, bank (BMO), and retail (Druxy's Famous Deli) that are occupied now are going to produce hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in tax revenue.
“But I don’t think anyone would suggest that this was all just about revenues.”
In July of 2012, the city sold this land to Mady Development; the deal included a 15-year, discounted lease of about 14,000 square feet of office space for city staff and $500,000 in cash to the city.
But the city and Fortress, the next owner, have not entered into a new lease agreement for the office space, although talks continue.
The city's deal with Fortress for 90 public parking spaces at Collier Centre, for 99 years, remains in place.
“While we still don’t yet know how the office space component will be fulfilled, the parking is built and open and the cash payment was made to the city,” Lehman said. “All of the commitments to the city remain on title for the property.”
Barrie planning staff also recommended the conversion to residential use because it satisfies provincial and city policy for mixed-use, higher density development that uses existing infrastructure, transit and municipal services.
The conversion from commercial would not change the exterior of the office tower or the second-floor retail space.
The existing residential tower at Collier Centre was built with 82 units, all sold as condos and occupied. But the condominium has not been registered, nor has a condominium corporation been formed.
Occupancy was granted in February, 2017, but the occupants are renting their units until the condo is registered – which Fortress hopes to have done by the end of October, says city staff.
Construction on Collier Centre was stopped in late 2014 because Mady didn't have the financing to continue.
As of January, 2015, there was approximately $62 million in debt owing on Collier Centre – including $30 million to Laurentian Bank, $12 million in lien claims to construction firms against the project and $20 million owed to other Mady creditors.
The Collier Centre's sale to Fortress closed in November, 2015.
In January of 2016, the sale proceeds were distributed by court order.
Laurentian got $25 million, $3.8 million went to settled construction lien claims and $400,000 were held for unsettled construction trade claims.
The following June the remaining sale proceeds of $600,000 were distributed, again on a court order.
Last year a multi-million-dollar, class-action lawsuit was launched against some of the owners, financiers and lawyers associated with Collier Centre.
The Ontario Superior Court of Justice statement of claim asked for $25 million in general damages and $2.5 million in exemplary, punitive and aggravated damages, plus legal costs.
The lawsuit concerns investments made in a syndicated mortgage.
None of the claims have been proven in court.