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Developers show interest in Simcoe revitalization project

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Developers and investors have expressed interest in doing something with the Adult Community Building in Simcoe, even before Norfolk County has had a chance to throw the floor open to suggestions.

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Brandon Sloan, Norfolk’s general manager of community development, shared the news with Norfolk council on July 13.

Sloan said some developers specialize in the re-development of old “brick-and-beam” industrial properties, adding the sprawling, 19th-century industrial complex on Pond Street is a classic example of the genre.

“We can start to build a contact list,” Sloan said. “We may need to look and dream as big as we can to meet as many of our objectives as we can.

“Let’s put this thing out there. Let’s put Simcoe and Norfolk County on the map.”

The Adult Community Building is the centrepiece of an ambitious plan to revitalize downtown Simcoe. The core has struggled for the past 20 years since the former Simcoe council opened the Queensway to new retail and commercial development.

The complex is on 3.6 acres of land that Norfolk owns along the west bank of the Lynn River between Argyle Street and Victoria Street.

The county’s vision for the land includes new housing and commercial and cultural activities. Developers wishing to partner with Norfolk County will have to ensure continued public access to the Lynn River waterfront along this 315-metre stretch.

In the area of housing, Sloan offered 1,000 as the number of new residents needed downtown to re-invigorate commercial activity. County planning policies adopted in recent years to facilitate this include rezoning derelict commercial properties for residential uses.

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Graphic artist Robert Judd of Waterford has been working with the county and commercial stakeholders downtown on a new vision for the Lynn River.

In a presentation to council on July 13, Judd said the project is important to him because he grew up in Simcoe in the area of the Wellington Park system.

“The parks were the talk of every tourist,” Judd recalled. “It was a lovely little town.”

Responding to reports that the Adult Community Building will need nearly $2 million in upgrades over the next 10 years, Judd spoke emphatically about the property as a solid county asset.

“Don’t tear it down,” he said. “Don’t disturb the ground. Don’t wreck the river. And, for sure, don’t sell it off. We need the waterfront. The river needs to remain as it is, with continued public access.”

Mayor Kristal Chopp assured Judd and the community that Norfolk has no plans to demolish the Adult Community Building. She said the complex is an asset despite its age and deterioration.

“We recognize it is such a gem for Simcoe,” the mayor said. “It’s a beautiful old building with a lot of potential.”

In his conceptual drawings, Judd includes a pedestrian bridge over the Lynn River connecting the Lynn Valley Trail along the east bank with a rejuvenated Adult Community Building. This, he said, would help generate additional foot traffic in the core.

Following the discussion, council approved a staff recommendation to invite “expressions-of-interest” from investors and developers willing to work with the county. Council will receive an update on the response in the fall.

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