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Developers plan big changes for downtown Sarnia

Heather Wright Special to The Journal The recent sale of the Bayside Centre appears to be bringing with it a massive redevelopment of downtown Sarnia.
Bayside Mall and surrounding commercial land.
Big changes are planned for the Bayside Mall, seen here in the centre of downtown Sarnia. Developers have earmarked $13 million to buy up and tear down adjacent building to make the mall more accessible to the street. Glenn Ogilvie

Heather Wright

Special to The Journal

The recent sale of the Bayside Centre appears to be bringing with it a massive redevelopment of downtown Sarnia.

Developer Gord Laschinger of Antalis Capital Limited says $13 million has been set aside to buy up properties around the downtown mall.

Five buildings have already been purchased, including the Industry Theatre and former Taylor’s Furniture building, and more could be in the works.

The idea, Laschinger said, is to open up the mall to the street by knocking down all but the Taylor’s building.

The company plans to redesign the streetscape by adding a civic corner parkette and a market square near the Taylor’s building, which he hopes to convert to condos.

A 150-unit seniors building is also planned for George Street, Laschinger told Lambton County council last week.

“Back in July we were doing a seniors complex in St. Thomas and we were looking at information on seniors demographics,” he said.

“There was a large unmet need in Sarnia.”

Laschinger estimates Sarnia alone needs another 1,000 units of seniors’ housing, so a 150-unit complex should sell well.

He said the city’s downtown has become an attractive place.

“I like the downtown a lot. There are a lot of cool restaurants and bars, there’s theatre, the art gallery – it has a lot to offer.

“I think a fair number of people want to live in downtown Sarnia.”

Last month, a development group bought the Bayside Mall for $1.75 million after a receiver relisted it on the market.

Work has already begun on roof repairs and a long-defunct escalator to the Shared Services offices.

The underground parking garage will be refurbished to make it more attractive, and opened in the evening.

“We want to modernize and bring it to current levels,” Laschinger said.

Negotiations are under way for a grocery story to set up in the mall and possibly a major drug store. The mall vision includes medical offices, boutique shops and more restaurants as well.

The company has an ambitious timeline – it has owned the building for just seven weeks and has hired an architect and had conceptual plans drawn up. It hopes to start the planning process with city hall in the last half of 2016.

“And while we do have an aggressive timeline, we do have to catch up with the rest of the downtown, Laschinger said.

In another development, Antalis Capital Limited has also bought The Drawbridge Inn.

Laschinger said he worked in Sarnia from 2005 to 2008 and often stayed at the Drawbridge. But when he returned with his company for the Bayside Mall acquisition he was disappointed to see its current condition, he said.

“So I reached out to the landlord,” he said, and the building was sold.

Laschinger said the plan for the Drawbridge is to renovate the interior and bring it back to its former glory.

Bayside Mall  and Lochiel Street  commercial buildings
Bayside Mall and Lochiel Street commercial buildings

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