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

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



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Donna Hopper

About the Author: Donna Hopper

Donna Hopper has been a photojournalist with SooToday since 2007, and her passion for music motivates her to focus on area arts, entertainment and community events.
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