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So, what's the scoop on the former St. Marys Paper? (20 photos)

Friday, March 01, 2013   by: Donna Hopper

At first glance, things appear pretty much the same at the St. Marys Paper site on the Sault's waterfront.

But on further inspection, enormous strides have been made in the redevelopment of the former paper mill property - entire buildings have been dismantled, machinery has been decommissioned and removed, piles of lumber have been sold, and the extensive removal of asbestos throughout has been completed.

SooToday.com sat with Riversedge Developments CEO, Justus Veldman, to discuss the project's current development and future initiatives.

For a gallery of photos showing redevelopment progress, please click here.

Initially operating as the Sault Ste. Marie Pulp and Paper Company and built by Francis H. Clergue in 1895, the mill remained operational until St. Marys Paper went bankrupt in 2011.

Riversedge Developments purchased the property in April 2012 and work on redeveloping the site began immediately, something the Woodstock, Ontario-based company is accustomed to.

"We are in the business of taking depressed industrial sites and repurposing those for an alternate use. In some cases we restart the mill depending on available options," Veldman told SooToday.com.

The City of Sault Ste. Marie and its various departments have been exceedingly cooperative and supportive with everything Riversedge Developments has done thus far, Veldman told us, something one would be unlikely to experience in any other city.

"The unique thing about this site, and what makes it different than any other site we've worked on - and what probably makes it unique in Canada - is there are five industrial Richardson Romanesque buildings that are in a repairable or salvageable state," he explained.

Saving and repurposing those five buildings, including the foundry, the machine shop, and the tower, is paramount for both the historical and architectural significance.

The tower, Veldman said, is in the worst shape of the five, but plans call for converting the four-story building into a possible outfitters store renamed The Northern Experience Building.

The company hopes to work closely with Tourism Sault Ste. Marie to cultivate the space into a tourist destination that may include a new station for the Agawa Tour Train.

"The need for a train station was identified by the Gateway property studies - an actual station that showcases the North where passengers load and unload rather than getting onto the train from a parking lot," Veldman said.

Riversedge Developments has been utilizing the numerous studies commissioned by the City of Sault Ste. Marie regarding the development of the Gateway site which runs adjacent to the St. Marys Paper property.

Those studies outlined the need for approximately a dozen individual initiatives that would boost the downtown area's economic and cultural growth, including a farmers' market, a theatre, and exhibition and gallery space.

"Those studies are now bearing fruit and it's nice to see those funds not go to waste. We can actually use a lot of the research that was done," Veldman told us.

"We looked at all of those initiatives to determine which ideas can actually stand on their own two feet and you can add a business case to so that private equity can invest into them without building a 'Taj Mahal'," he continued. "We're not building a $75 million project, but phasing in a variety of viable initiatives that draw people."

Additional phases considered for future development of the property include residential and institutional components, which Veldman feels would compliment the Sault's postsecondary student population boom.

"Both the College and the University are growing very rapidly, which is an excellent thing for the Sault," he said. "I think the people in the Sault are starting to appreciate what that does for the community as a whole."

It is Veldman's hope that by engaging Sault's younger generation - the "generation that needs to stay in the Sault" in order for the community to grow and prosper - it will gain an interest in and come to understand the historical significance of the site, and become more actively involved in its development as a result.

In an attempt to reach that audience, curious Sault residents will have an opportunity to see the progress on the first phase of development - the Machine Shop - this evening when the venue hosts Shawn Desman and Anjulie.

For more information about this all-ages performance, please click here

"We thought it was important to get their involvement. We wanted to bring in someone that would not only cater to the 12-15-year-olds, but also the college and university students, in order to show off the venue."

Once workers began to clear equipment out of the machine shop building, Veldman said it became obvious that the space would be the perfect performance venue.

With a capacity of between 250 and 600 - and better acoustics than Toronto's Roy Thompson Hall, as George Ravlich from Crank Sound Distribution once told us - the venue has already hosted two events in cooperation with last year's Algoma Fall Festival.

Although The Machine Shop is not 100 percent complete, developers hope to have the space ready to host functions and events on a full-time basis by mid to late fall.

With 120 years of history behind the former St. Marys Paper site, the shift in use and functionality may appear awkward and drastic to those who lived, worked, and supported the paper industry.

But Veldman is confident of its success and has yet to hear from anyone locally that feels the development is a negative direction for the site.

"It's a mindset change. This was a paper mill 10 months ago. It's a completely different use for the site than generations in the Sault have known," he said.

"But it seems that the people of Sault Ste. Marie have embraced the fact that the paper industry as a whole is not as viable as it used to be," Veldman continued. "They're starting to appreciate the fact that we're looking at restoring the five historical buildings, and are trying to better understand what the community needs and make those needs fit on our site."

In the mean time, Veldman wants the residents of Sault Ste. Marie to know that he's more than open to discuss venture possibilities with area business owners, community groups and private citizens, and the site continues to host between five and 10 property tours every week for those interested.

"The only way we know how to develop the site is if we learn what the requirements of Sault Ste. Marie are. That's what we're basing this whole development on," he told us.

Anyone interested in touring the site is invited to contact Eva DeBoer at 705-251-6776, ext. 235.

For a historical look back at the paper mill, please visit the Riversedge editorial page were Rick Vosper offers a unique perspective on the various structures located on the site.

View Photo Gallery for this Story

Comments
19
Note: Comments that appear on the site are not the opinion of SooToday.com. If you see an abusive post, please click the link beside the post to report it.
Tom_Bom 3/1/2013 10:59:28 AM Report

Didn't someone mention that the ground there was unusable because it's saturated with a sort of chemical? I though I remember something along those lines.
Donna Hopper 3/1/2013 11:08:40 AM Report

During my discussion with Mr. Veldman, he stated that the environmental clean-up was grossly over-estimated due to the fact that very few chemicals were used at that mill during the paper-making process. It's interesting to note that zero chemicals were used to polish the paper. It was, in fact, polished with clay.
stan jr 3/1/2013 11:55:08 AM Report

St Mary's made s/c paper, But what about Abitibi,that large sand stone build is where they cooked the pulp in sulphuric acid,there was a black liquor tower between the sulphite and the boiler house and knowing how thing ran I'm sure they had plenty upsets in both places. In espanola they is cook wood chips the paper mill in the Sault used to smell like that. Ah but don't worry just burry it under something nice like the Casino.
Wicket 3/1/2013 12:13:28 PM Report

We are absolutely thrilled that people with a positive vision purchased this property, instead of some local yahoo who would have torn everything down. Sincere wishes for a profitable venture that will enhance our city for many years to come.
Thank you....
Love seeing the pictures and will be planning a tour when the weather warms up..lol
learningaswego 3/1/2013 12:35:32 PM Report

What great news to hear, about the potential of this site, and the forward - thinking people working on it.

Who would have thought a place like that would be an ideal setting for music performance? That is incredible.

KUDO's to all those involved in this venture.
IB-fine 3/1/2013 1:11:34 PM Report

A theatre/music hall would be fabulous along with the other ideas of permanent farmer's market like in St. Jacob's near Kitchener.
I can also see a couple of the buildings made into artist loft space or condos.

But mainly I'd also like to see them partner with something like Habitat for Humanity or other Non-Profit Housing group to make more geared to income apartments with the focus on mixed incomes. If you just make it totally RGI it just becomes a slum area or gets a bad name, where as when you have some at full rent and some at RGI you get a community. There is a huge shortage of affordable 1 bedroom units and as our population ages we need more of those units!
Right now once you can't afford your own home anymore it's slim pickings to find an affordable 1 bedroom unit and the waiting list for a 1 bedroom is about 2 years long!

Our other choice move down south and move in with our kids and their families?
Oh God please NO!
RLE 3/1/2013 1:45:42 PM Report

Given the circumstances,it's nice to see the site converted to another use as opposed to it falling into a total state of disrepair. Having said that, anytime I go past the site it will be a monument to 21st century business thinking, that defines progress as the demise of well paying industrial jobs and replacing them with minimum wage jobs without benefits.These replacement jobs will really encourage young people to stay here
thomas 3/1/2013 5:56:15 PM Report

I think this is just awesome. I just hope that they do soil contamination tests. People that will be employed there once it is developed will suffer health issues if there is contamination.

This is one more positive step for the Sault, and moving ahead for tourism.
JustMe1234567 3/1/2013 6:27:48 PM Report

This is fantastic for the Soo!

Justus Veldman sounds like he really has a great vision. Welcome to out town sir! Make us proud.

The location of this site has So much potential.

I see a teen centre for the kids, they need something to do to keep them occupied. Also another skate park like they have at John Rhodes, but with lights so they can skate at dark.

Have some attractions for the kids and the parents will follow!

While the kids are at a dance or at the skate park on the grounds, parents could be at a cafe or bistro nearby enjoying a late dinner and waiting for their kids.

Imagine how great it will look coming across the bridge and seeing lots of community activity, not a big old industrial site.

newcon 3/1/2013 6:45:35 PM Report

First off I must state that if anyone wishes to be taken seriously in a debate they should refrain from uttering the "cliche" term "awesome", it's childish and "desperate" (for a more educated term). Second,to the new owners of the St. Mary's property it's good to see that inovation and vision still exists. This is a major undertaking and it's not for the weak kneed or the B.S.'r . And the one person overseeing the activity on the site (Mr. T.K.)is undoubtedly the best choice for such an undertaking. Justus you are in good hands with your hired help and the contractors hired to assist you...they are truly a professional group of Trades People.
Newcon
JustMe1234567 3/1/2013 7:51:42 PM Report

@Newcon- good comment except for the slam about what words people choose to use to express themselves.

'Awesome' is not a childish term. My boss said it to me the other day in regards to a project I completed, and she isn't a child.

Na na na na na na!
:p

Go Riversedge Development, build it and they will come!
Timbob 3/1/2013 9:19:03 PM Report

Well I don't know about "vision". Sounds like a lot more government spending to me.
Sam C 3/1/2013 9:46:06 PM Report

Tom-Bom...a lot of people SAY things that they don't necessarily know to be facts. No doubt there may have been chemicals on the site, but whether they rendered the soil unsuitable for development is another matter.

There have been sites with far more serious contamination that have been reclaimed and redeveloped... like the Casino site, or the entire waterfront, for that matter.
newcon 3/1/2013 10:19:21 PM Report

As a "Private Sector" entrepaneur I'm telling you that the word/term "awesome" is not preferred at the business meeting unless discussing mountains, explosions or sub-terrain oil resevoirs. Your teacher maybe needs lessons from the people who make the country work(Private Sector)...and pay her/his salary.
It's not a "slam" it's only advice...something that nobody wants anymore because they think they know it all.
zdc 3/2/2013 12:23:57 AM Report

I too, as a "private sector" entrePREneur have rarely heard much mention of "awesome" during discussions. I do, though, hear more than not, the mindless ramblings of fairly educated people trying their best to outgun their colleagues with words straight out of the thesaurus.
Keep it simple yet effective.
Less thesaurus, more dictionary "entrepaneur"
ackw 3/2/2013 5:55:29 AM Report

the greed of a few making all this possible..
PO/AV/HE
newcon 3/2/2013 7:46:01 PM Report

Can somebody please point out to me as to what country here on earth is free of "GREED". If not for the love of money there would be no jobs, thus no money for the unions to extort.
Maybe cuba, china or Russia would be more "worker friendly". Just think of the great health care one receives after a stint in the "gulag(s)". Or maybe one would prefer a tropical Caribbean island where working the sugarcane fields pay as much as $12.00per day...but at least the government is free of corruption eh.
With socialism it's just a matter of time before this country ends up like a 3rd world paradise.
stiJJy 3/3/2013 9:49:46 AM Report

OK, calm down newcon.
Alken 3/3/2013 2:55:55 PM Report

As usual with soo today some captions would have been nice!
Comments
19
Note: Comments that appear on the site are not the opinion of SooToday.com. If you see an abusive post, please click the link beside the post to report it.
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