KITCHENER — An out-of-town developer bought the small, empty lot across the street from City Hall for about $550,000 after it sat vacant in the heart of the city for 20 years.
As the City of Kitchener spent about $144 million on downtown revitalization during a 10-year period, the litter-strewn lot remained impervious to the impact of improvements big and small that occurred around it.
“It always amazed me that it sat empty for so long,” Coun. Frank Etherington said of the eyesore that’s long blighted his ward. “It is a property that has troubled me for a long, long while.”
OHM Development Group, which is based on Arkell Road in Guelph, bought the property. The developer has preliminary plans to build a four storey building at 225 King St. W. that has retail on the ground floor and rental units above.
“I hope we will see something quickly,” Etherington said. “It has been years of neglect, and it has been an ugly gap in our downtown core.”
Etherington attended the keg tapping celebration in front of City Hall on Friday that launched Oktoberfest. National and local media were on hand because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne attended. And just across the street, like the gapped-tooth grin of a hockey goon, sat the empty lot.
“For me, on our prime downtown sites, I want to see quality, highly designed developments,” Etherington said.
The Kitchener Blues Festival, New Year’s Eve celebrations, the Christkindl Market and the Bicycle Week gatherings all happen in front of the empty space.
In a bid to reduce its negative impact, the city erected a flimsy fence that is decorated with large colourful pictures of Kitchener festivals, events and smiling faces. It did not hide the empty lot, and underscored the gap between the marketing of downtown Kitchener and the sometimes gritty reality on the ground.
“We keep slapping photographs on the front to make it look prettier, but that has achieved nothing,” Etherington said. “And that’s one of the prime sites I wanted to see developed in my ward, and I hope it is going to be that kind of development.”
OHM Development Group also bought the historic American Block at 1 Queen St. N. Terry Riddoch of Colliers International was the real estate agent on both.
The empty space between the Manulife offices in the former King Street Centre, and the Japanese restaurant is actually two, separate properties. OHM purchased the larger one that covers some 6,500-square-feet with about 43 feet of frontage on King Street West. That means a narrow piece of empty land that is about 19 feet wide will remain next to the Manulife offices.
“We weren’t able to conclude a deal with him,” Riddoch said of that smaller lot.