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Half a million for Woolworth's site

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The city paid $500,000 to acquire the former Woolworth’s building on King Street West, a sum it topped up by giving its outgoing owners a tax receipt.

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The purchase reportedly ended up costing the city less than half of what the owners had been asking. City council will soon consult the public about what to do with the property and put it up to a request for proposals.

Mayor Jason Baker revealed the price of Brockville’s latest purchase at a virtual council meeting earlier this week, noting the deal is expected to close imminently.

“We hope it all gets closed tomorrow,” Baker added on Thursday.

Lawyers discovered “some small items” related to the division of the property into front and back sections, minor details that needed clearing up, said the mayor.

Baker told council the deal with the Regional Group of Companies saw the city pay $500,000 in cash, as well as a “similarly sized” tax receipt, allowing the company to recoup more of the balance between the city’s offer and its asking price.

“This is the exact same way the city acquired the park beside the Rowing Club,” Baker noted Thursday, referring to Reynolds Park.

He stressed that $500,000 is the city’s total financial outlay for the purchase, and the Regional Group paid all municipal taxes outstanding on the property as a condition of the deal closing.

“This was a bit of a lengthy negotiation,” said the mayor, who added the Regional Group still saw value in the building and was interested in retaining it.

Nonetheless, Baker added, city officials concluded Brockville had given the private sector ample time to sort out what to do with the site, and it was time for the city to step in.

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The former Woolworth’s store, centrally located in the downtown core, has sat vacant for years after a plan to redevelop it was put on the shelf some seven years ago.

The building was a Liquidation World outlet before closing in 2004.

City council in February 2013 gave the Regional Group approval to redevelop the site into a self-service storage facility, as well as four new retail spaces.

But not long after that, the owners judged that project not to be financially viable.

In 2014, workers made cosmetic improvements to what had become a decrepit-looking building with peeling paint. The work included painting the exterior, putting in a false wall to hide the interior and cleaning up debris.

But while the work made it less of an eyesore for a time, the site has remained undeveloped and is again showing signs of age.

In a social media post earlier this week, Coun. Matt Wren outlined some of the city’s thinking behind the purchase.

“The vendor had an expectation of value that seemingly no one was willing to pay,” Wren wrote on Facebook.

“On top of the purchase price, any proponent would be entering into a major project to demolish the structure and build anew. At the end of the day, if anyone was going to do anything with this building under the circumstances, they would have done it by now.”

“With an asking price north of $1 million, the city has acquired the property for $500,000 cash,” added Wren. “In addition, the city recognized the differential by providing a tax receipt to the vendor.”

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Baker on Thursday acknowledged the sad state of the empty structure.

“My belief was we were purchasing the lot on King Street and anything that could be salvaged from the building would be a bonus,” said the mayor.

Early in the new year, council will develop a scoring process to rate any requests for proposals from potential developers of the site. Baker said the city reserves the right to hold onto the property if necessary, but council does not want to be in the development business.

“Out first choice is to come and find a developer who will bring a new and great development to the downtown core,” said Baker.

Wren wrote that he hopes a private developer will deliver “a structure that will complement our historic downtown.

“Given the zoning and official plan guidelines, the uses will likely focus on commercial and professional space, and perhaps some upper level residential components,” Wren added.

The councillor warned people to temper their expectations for the future site, noting that in business, “cash is king.”

“The person writing the cheque will ultimately have the most to say and we as local government will ensure their application meets all standards and codes, the building is attractive and suitable to its location, and ultimately is in the public interest,” wrote Wren.

Baker does have at least one expectation: He would like to see the coming process lead to shovels in the ground at the site during the 2021 building season.

Rzajac@postmedia.com

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