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Developer selected for Midland Bay Landing project

Barrie firm selected to lead next step of waterfront redevelopment project, but one councillor believes decision should have been deferred to next council
2020-07-29 ap
Midland Bay Landing could soon be home to condos and shops after council approved a developer for the site. Andrew Philips/MidlandToday

With the clock seemingly ticking, Midland council has approved a developer for the Midland Bay Landing waterfront redevelopment.

Council selected Georgian Communities Inc. at a special closed meeting this week following evaluation of proposals submitted by three short-listed developers.

“Georgian Communities’ concept for Midland Bay Landing creatively builds on and enriches the current Master Plan, which was developed through extensive public engagement with residents,” the town and Midland Bay Landing Development Corp. (MBLDC) said in a joint statement.

The town purchased the 40-acre property from Unimin in 2013 for $4 million, plus a portion of the cost of a phase 2 environment assessment to confirm the property is free of any contamination.

Financially, Georgian’s proposal pays the town a purchase price in the development’s first phase that “exceeds the town’s acquisition cost of the whole property,” MBLDC chair Bill Kernohan told MidlandToday.

“In addition, Georgian will construct the promenade and park space in phase 1, a signature feature of the redevelopment, at no cost to the town, further enhancing the town’s return on  investment,” he said. “When phase 2 lands are purchased, the town will receive additional funds.”

While current councillor and mayoral candidate Bill Gordon said he would like to see the project left for the next council to decide, Kernohan said selection of a developer by council in June 2022 has been planned since 2021.

“Timing of the RFP (request for proposals) anticipated a strong real estate market and competition,” he said. “The results demonstrate significant financial benefits to the Town plus providing new public spaces at no cost to the Town.”

But council wasn’t unanimous in its decision to enter into a letter of intent (LOI) at this time.

“As a proponent, on behalf of a significant number of residents, of deferring the binding of the Town to any developer proposals pending a clear mandate from the voters on Oct 24th, I was disheartened to see only one of my peers (Coun. Beth Prost) support my motion and vote against the awarding of the letter of intent,” Gordon said.

“However, that is our democratic process and I accept the outcome. Ultimately the voters will decide on who forms the next term of council and the oversight of the process – characterized as a legacy project that we should all want our names to be associated with. That seemed to resonate strongly in the decision making.”

Headquartered in Barrie, Georgian Communities Inc. has a number of other developments in their final phases in the Simcoe area including Braestone Estates in Horseshoe Valley, Mountain House at Blue, and Windfall at Blue in Collingwood.

Working in tandem with Georgian is architecture firm, IBI Group, which has worked across the United States and in some Canadian centres on various redevelopment projects.

“Georgian Communities’ concept for Midland Bay Landing creatively builds on and enriches the current Master Plan, which was developed through extensive public engagement with residents,” the town and Midland Bay Landing Development Corp. said in a joint statement.

“It took many years of work and public engagement by multiple Town Councils to get  the project to this stage,” said Mayor Stewart Strathearn. “We are pleased that this proposal provides so many important benefits to our entire community, and we look  forward to working with Georgian and our residents to bring this exciting project to Midland.”

The vision depicted in Georgian Communities’ concept drawings will act as a starting point for further refinement of the design with additional public consultation as the design evolves over time, the town’s release noted.

The town and MBLDC will now execute an LOI with Georgian that will start a 120-day exclusivity period when the developer, the town and MBLDC will collaborate on refining the design concept for the phase 1 lands at the east side of the property, which is planned for public realm space and low-rise townhomes.

Then, the developer will purchase the phase 1 lands from the town, excluding the retained town-owned public realm property. 

The town says tax revenue from the town-homes constructed in phase 1 will expand the current municipal tax base while acting as a catalyst for rejuvenating and rehabilitating Midland, and generate market interest in the further development of phase 2 that will include shops, live-work spaces and additional public space.

Gordon, meanwhile, said that while there’s no question that the economic benefits to developing this property are good for Midland, residents, and visitors alike, the ratio of public-use space (25%) to residential/commercial has been a concern for many residents from the outset.

“With phase two conceptual drawings, as attractive as they are, I see a serious threat to our downtown core as high-end retail and food/beverage on the site will lure much away from our new main street and our small businesses there,” Gordon said.

“In addition, the ‘concrete jungle’ of stacked luxury residential on the east side (phase one) does nothing for the affordability of housing in Midland.”

That said, Gordon noted that it’s important to recognize that these drawings are only conceptual and based solely on the established official plan. He noted that this is not a site plan, the property has not yet been sold to the developer and there should be time for public input as the process unfolds.

Gordon said he could have supported the LOI if there were assurances that the agreement to purchase was dated in such a way as to ensure that it becomes a decision of the next council, “who will have the benefit of clear instruction and mandate from the voters.”

“Sadly, no such assurance was offered, and I expect that, like the LOI, the sale will be pushed through in the last few weeks of our mandate by a council that will have delegated that authority to our CAO,” he said.

“This developer and this deal are not ‘bad for Midland’ and I am confident that with a strong council next term, that the site plan can come to a compromise that will satisfy most of the resident concerns.”

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Andrew Philips

About the Author: Andrew Philips

Editor Andrew Philips is a multiple award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in some of the country‚Äôs most respected news outlets. Originally from Midland, Philips returned to the area from Québec City a decade ago.
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