Vacant building awaits new life

VacantReporter: Sarah Pugsley

It’s a well-known fact that post-secondary students live for the weekend. After working hard all week, it’s important to find time to have some fun.
Unfortunately, not many students feel they can use Oshawa’s downtown core to fulfill their entertainment needs.
It has suffered from much criticism over the years from surrounding municipalities and citizens, but city developers and businesses are hoping they will be able to attract more post-secondary students over the coming years.
David Tuley, downtown development officer for the city of Oshawa, was an integral part of the culture counts initiative that came to completion last month.
Among other projects, his number one priority is the refurbishment and development of Oshawa’s core.
Currently he’s leading a project called Plan Twenty-Twenty, which envisions a new downtown Oshawa by the year 2020.
“And so, what we’ve done is broken what citizens and city employees want to do into categories: business growth, social experience, events, which is part of social experience,” said Tuley.
“But it’s interesting because there are just having this wide conversation of where we want to head, how we’re going to do it and how we’re going to judge ourselves and grade ourselves. A lot of it is student-oriented, but I’d say most of it is making the downtown a better place for the public at large.”
One of the widely citied problems with the core is the Genosha hotel, which sits as an eyesore on the corner of Mary and King.
A UOIT student even started a recent petition to have the university use the building, and during the Wasted Space festival in September 2013 there was citizen group lobbying to find an occupant for the building.
“It’s interesting that the students are taking an interest in the hotel, but that re-emphasizes what everyone is saying: the Genosha is the number one problem downtown,” says Tuley.
“But they forget that…six years ago, the Regent Theatre was empty, there wasn’t a new building behind the theatre, there wasn’t a courthouse, and there wasn’t a GM Centre. So we’ve done so much, but that flippin’ Genosha still sits there. Our number one problem.”
According to Tuley, UOIT has walked away from downtown after the development of the Regent Theatre.
They had expressed interest in early 2010, however the deal did not go through.
He believes the best use for the building and location would be a student residence with space for commercial restaurants and shops on the ground.
“Nothing else makes sense. We already have enough empty office space, office buildings; you couldn’t build a hotel there and make money.Student residence is the only thing. And the only way to make money on student residence is to pay about half the price of what’s being asked for right now,” said Tuley.
Tuley also noted the reason so many potential developers have walked away from the building is mainly the cost.
The current owner, who cannot be disclosed at this time, is asking for 3 million dollars.
A few interested parties come to Tuley every year with an interest in the property, but being cost-effective with such a high asking price is near impossible.
Back in October 2013, the Business Improvement Area (BIA) association of Oshawa filed a heritage re-examination of the Genosha hotel with city council. The Genosha has been declared a heritage site, and the exterior cannot be touched or developed by new inhabitants. By bringing up the possibility of re-examination, the BIA was able to bring about a much-needed discussion within council chambers.
“The BIA is just trying to step up the pressure, and they are using the heritage angle as a way of doing that because the current owner isn’t taking care of some of the heritage features,” said Tuley.
“So the BIA is being maybe a little sneaky by putting the pressure on them, and it’s good. But it’s certainly not the heritage that’s holding that project up; it’s the cost of the building.”
With a developing plan in place, future post-secondary students at UOIT, Durham College and Trent can plan to see serious changes coming.
Whether a student residence is eventually developed in the Genosha space is another question that will take time to answer.
However, the continued development of cafes, restaurants, artistic spaces and entrepreneurial opportunities for students is a priority for city developers and businesses downtown.