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This article was published 19/4/2010 (2561 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
After years of searching and several false starts, CentreVenture has finally found someone to redevelop one of the downtown's biggest eyesores -- the derelict Avenue Building on Portage Avenue.
The breakthrough came after the city and province conditionally agreed to provide up to $2 million in financial aid to developers Mark and Rick Hofer, who plan to spend $7 million to convert the former six-storey office building into apartments and retail/office space.
Two earlier redevelopment deals fell through -- one after a Saskatchewan developer couldn't get financing for his plan to convert the building to condos and office space, and the other after a local developer couldn't land an anchor tenant for his project, which involved converting it into a "green" office building.
But that's not going to happen this time, according to the Hofers and CentreVenture Development Corp. president and CEO Ross McGowan.
"We've been working on this for three or four months... and we waited (to say anything) because we wanted to make sure we had everything covered," Mark Hofer said. "We're good to go."
He said the plan is to convert the main floor to retail or office space, and the other five floors to 59 apartments.
A work crew has already begun gutting the inside of the building and the goal is to complete the project by the fall of next year. Rick Hofer said they also want to dress up the exterior of the building, although those plans are still being worked on, as well.
McGowan said getting a deal with the Hofers is a huge relief for CentreVenture, which has been trying for about five years to find a solution for what he has described as one of the downtown's biggest symbols of decay.
"I think it's an outstanding use of the building. I think this will change the whole psyche of Portage Avenue," he said.
"It's also going to dump some people onto that street, which is very important. A lot of other cities have residential on their main drag, and this is our first opportunity to do that here."
The key to making their project work was the governments' incentive package, the details of which have not yet been released pending final approval.
Hofer said refurbishing old buildings is costly and risky at the best of times. And this particular building is 106 years old and has been sitting empty for several decades.
"So without it (the government assistance), it wouldn't have happened," he said, adding, "it was great working with the province, the city and CentreVenture."
The Hofers successfully renovated another old downtown building last year -- a 104-year-old former warehouse at 230 Princess St., which they also converted into apartments and commercial space. But that building -- now called The Edge on Princess -- was only four storeys, was in better shape, and only cost about $4 million to redevelop.
Asked why they would want to tackle a project as difficult as this one, Mark Hofer said they like the challenge and the prospect of succeeding where others have failed. They also love the location.
The Avenue Building will likely be loosely patterned after The Edge. They plan to use the same architectural firm -- 5468796 Architecture -- and the apartments will likely be similar in size and design (open, loft-style).
Finding a new use for the the Avenue Building is one of the linchpins of a new "action plan" for Portage Avenue that CentreVenture hopes to unveil within the next few weeks.
McGowan said the next big projects on the agency's to-do list are the redevelopment of the A & B Sound/Mitchell Copp buildings on Portage Avenue across from the MTS Centre, and the redevelopment of the former Metropolitan Theatre just south of Portage on Donald Street.
CentreVenture and the North Portage Development Corp. own the A & B Sound and Mitchell Copp buildings, and plan to redevelop the two as a single development, which will include both residential and commercial space.
"We've got a few pieces there... and we're working on it," McGowan said. "We're hoping by the end of June we should have a better idea of what we're going to do there."
CentreVenture sold the Met to the Canad Inns corporation, which plans to restore the 91-year-old former movie theatre and convert it into "super-supper club" featuring food and beverages and entertainment.
McGowan said the hotel chain has already completed some exterior upgrades, and has a plan for restoring and redeveloping the interior. But he wasn't sure how soon that work will begin.
The plan for the Avenue Building
Details of the redevelopment of the Avenue Building:
Who's doing it? Brothers Mark and Rick Hofer. Rick is a developer and Mark owns a marketing agency (Direct Marketing).
What are they doing? They plan to convert the former office building into apartments and commercial space. There will likely be one or two retail or office tenants on the main floor, and a total of 59 bachelor and one-bedroom apartments on the other four floors. The apartments will likely range in size from 400 to 600 square feet, and the rent will range from $750 to $900 per month.
How will they do it? With about $2 million worth of government assistance and $5 million of their own financing.
How long will the project take? About 18 months, with completion tentatively set for the fall of 2011.