Downtown West was a nice idea


(Peter Hoogendam, second from left, his companion Lynne Candlish, and realtor Ray Wheeler, watch as a track excavator takes down part of a wall at the Downtown West development site in this April 2010 file photo. At left is Russ Knapp, of Knapp's Paving and Landscaping.)


As Brockville council prepares to approve, without incident, a new office building just south of King Street West, let us pause, even for a second, to ponder what might have been.

I bring this up because even I was guilty of not pausing to consider the fate of Downtown West, once a proposed $9-million, 26- unit condominium project.

As council’s economic development and planning committee on Tuesday breezed through an uneventful public meeting on the promising development, it occurred to me the fact this site was once touted as part of a downtown condominium boom was barely an afterthought.

Later on, I was told Downtown West, long on the newsroom backburner as one of those “stalled condominium projects,” was in fact not stalled, but dead.

Former owner Peter Hoogendam later confirmed the project has been dead for two years.

Not only is it dead, but the conditions that once made it possible have so changed that few people even noticed it is dead.

Now, Downtown West died what one might call a “normal” death, succumbing to forces that are not new and certainly not unusual in the world of business.

For starters, there was the 2008 recession, the first nail in the bigger coffin that now contains the rotting corpse of Brockville’s planned downtown residential renaissance.

Then, in May 2011, Hoogendam and his local partners sold the project to developer Bill Curnew, who promised to make the project more upscale and change its name to Buell's Creek Condominiums.

Other forces, the kind that resulted in legal issues, led to that plan's failure.

Fast-forward to today, and the site’s current owners have given up on the whole condo idea, instead opting for a “community health and resource centre.”

Which is, of course, a grand idea. The main core is not the main core without social and health services and the building humbly overlooking a parking lot leading to Water Street would make a perfect site for such services.

But it’s worth a moment to consider what might have been.

I was there, camera in hand, in April 2010, when workers tore down a steel-and-concrete structure that used to link what is now to be a resource centre to the former Reliable Home Decor business on King Street West.

The plan then was to make room for 60 feet of green space north of the condo development.

At the time, Hoogendam called it “a key step in the process."

Which brings us to that other natural hazard of doing business: Shifting markets.

Brockville once seemed an attractive prospect for a market of late-middle-aged or early-senior retirees looking to downsize and move into a condominium by our majestic riverfront.

Downtown West, like other projects, was to seize that opportunity and Downtown West, like other projects, fell apart, ultimately, when that opportunity became less realistic.

All that is left of that vision, in fact, is the Tall Ships Landing tower, the one project that did seize – and perhaps is still seizing – what remained of that opportunity.

Downtown West, though, was a nice idea.

We can figure out why its opportunity faded, and figure out what the next opportunity will be, but we need more nice ideas, because the more of them there are, the better the chances some of them will turn into buildings.