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As old hospital decays, Amit Sofer still dreams of transforming it (12 photos)

City Council wants property standards maintained on the waterfront site

It was described at this week's City Council meeting as a "disgrace" and an "abomination."

But developer Amit Sofer still hopes to turn his godforsaken former General Hospital site into one of the Sault's premier residential addresses.

"It could take a number of years, but we intend to stick with it until it’s seen right through until the end,” Sofer says.

“It sometimes doesn’t happen as quickly as I or you or anybody would like [it] to, but in time, we believe that this will end up being a realization of our original plans, which is one of the greatest sort of sites to live at in all of the Sault, period,” the TVM Group principal told SooToday's James Hopkin last month.

This week, however, Sofer's project was drawing heavy flak from city councillors.

"I think this building is an abomination to our waterfront." Ward 3 Councillor Matthew Shoemaker said. "Frankly, it's becoming a bit of a disgrace in our city's natural beauty."

"Just looking at it, you could name 10 property standards infringements that at clearly taking place," Shoemaker said.

"There's a bit of an extraordinary situation here that seems to be getting, each year, worse and worse with no light at the end of the tunnel," said Ward 2's Susan Myers.

"If the building is compliant with our property standards," added Mayor Christian Provenzano, "there's a problem with our property standards."

Council passed the following resolution Monday night:

Whereas the maintenance and security of the former hospital properties has been sorely neglected; and

Whereas it appears very unlikely this prime waterfront area will be further developed in the foreseeable future; and

Whereas the former hospital buildings are crumbling and action needs to be taken for the elimination of personal risk, and to address the aesthetics of this property; and

Whereas this area is part of the community’s prime waterfront and is situated along a main east-west corridor creating an eyesore which impacts the reputation of the City to visitors and is discouraging to local residents; and

Whereas a number of serious concerns have been cited by the residents of Riverwalk Condominiums who are literally living in the midst of this abandoned property site, including the following:

  • unrestricted vehicular access; cars and trucks regularly using the area for high speed, dangerous driving and illegal drug activity is observed daily
  • people are frequently seen on the roof of the former general hospital and risk of serious injury is a concern to those living adjacent
  • health concerns are great due to an extensive rat infestation and evidence of a haven for roosting and breeding for pigeons in both the former renal site and general hospital building; and

Whereas the demand on policing is substantial and associated costs are high due to the inordinate number of complaints received from concerned citizens over the past two years regarding these properties because the site is an unsecured magnet for intruders; and

Whereas the state of this property does directly affect the residents of the Riverwalk Condominium and those in the surrounding neighbourhood; and

Whereas the entire city suffers as this prime waterfront area appears so poorly and could discourage investment in our community by a seeming lack of commitment to maintain high property standards;

Therefore be it resolved that appropriate staff be requested to investigate and report back to City Council by the first meeting in September on all options to exercise the full authority available to the municipality to address this serious issue; and

Further be it resolved that staff recommend a specific course of action that can be taken to resolve this matter

Sofer says remodelling the old General Hospital site was to be Phase 2 of his Riverwalk residential condominium development.

“We had plans drawn up and a lot of marketing material, we had sold about 25 per cent of the suites,” he tells SooToday.

“Everything was going fairly well until...I don’t know if it’s tied to what happened at the steel plant, but there was a real change in the economy, sales slowed, and we were unable to achieve sort of an economic level of sales to move forward with it.”

On May 9, 2017, TVM announced it was deferring Phase 2, "due to challenging and uncertain economic conditions.

"Effective immediately The TVM Group has instructed that all deposit funds be returned to Riverwalk Condos Phase 2 buyers.  Though we deeply regret this difficult decision we are confident that it is the right one at this time. We fully intend to revisit the plans for the site in the near future and hope to continue development on this incredible parcel of land," the company said in a news release.

Sofer says all deposits were returned to purchasers, who were told they would have first option when the project resumes.

“We’re just awaiting an appropriate time to come back and relaunch, so it’s still slated, but there isn’t a schedule for it right now.”

For that to happen, TVM would need 70 per cent in pre-sales.

“We were unable to achieve it before,” Sofer says.

“I understand things are getting stronger in the Sault, and that’s sort of what I see when I’m there.”

“We’re warming to it again, but the direct correlation is we need to have a 70 per cent presale level.”

In the meantime, what precautions are being taken to preserve and secure the old hospital site on the waterfront?

“We have people that are monitoring the building for us, we have regular communication with the police.”

“There are people going through the building, I wish they wouldn’t.”

“It’s dangerous, there’s a whole bunch of dangers within the building, but there are people in an unauthorized manner  have entered the building for exploring or for vandalism, or for thievery.”

“We do our best to contain that, but that’s a challenge that we face with empty buildings anywhere,”

“I’m sure ours isn’t the only empty building in Sault Ste. Marie, but it’s probably one of the larger ones.”

Sofer says he's looked at other approaches to redeveloping the property, involving "large users of space,” but none have panned out.  

He continues to consider alternative ideas.

“We are keen to maximize the value out of the properties, and to develop them for the betterment of the community as a whole, because we’re a player in Sault Ste. Marie and a believer in the market.”

SooToday's James Hopkin made extensive contributions to this article.


David Helwig

About the Author: David Helwig

David Helwig's journalism career spans six decades beginning in the 1960s. His work has been recognized with national and international awards.
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