During Monday night’s Committee of the Whole meeting in Smiths Falls, Bruce Linton met with town council to present an update on the development of the former water treatment plant. Progress is stalled due to the high expense of construction in Smiths Falls.
“This project started at least 4 years ago,” explained Linton. “At the time when I looked at the site, my full intent was [to build] an office tower for a company called Tweed. It made me disappointed that we had a whole tower in Kanata. If you’re going to be in Kanata, you might as well be in Winnipeg. I wanted to consolidate all of those people in an office tower in Smiths Falls.
“When I was out and there was no further intention to consolidate anything, I switched gears a little bit and started thinking about this building as a long-term stay, hotel, wedding venue. Thank God with Covid we couldn’t continue with the hotel concept. It shifted to how much accommodation could we build there now that people don’t need to be anywhere to go to work.”
Linton pursued a site/cost analysis with Ernst & Young, which revealed that the financial investment would require building a seven storey building “to make sense.” This is because “it’s more expensive to build in Smiths Falls than in Toronto.” Linton pointed out that it’s 25% more expensive to build in Ottawa than Toronto, and then 25% more expensive again to build in Smiths Falls. “We need a price point on these that attracts people who wish to be here because they can remotely work; they want to be able to walk through the downtown core; and they want to pay less than they would if they were in Toronto.”
The development potential is better now, because people don’t want to go to an office. They want to work from home. The land cost itself is a small portion of the total construction cost. Linton’s vision for the space is to create something gorgeous and lasting. “There’s a special thing here. I’m just worried someone else will make the economics work and we’ll have a really dull building.”
Councillor McKenna asked if Linton was considering giving up on this dream. Linton replied that he’s used to getting things done faster than this, but hasn’t given up yet. “I think it’s a better business now than before the pandemic, but … you can find a way to lose a couple million bucks on this.” And that’s not the kind of business anyone wants to be in, McKenna agreed.
Councillor Allen thanked Linton for the update, noting that he has “a reputation in our community for doing things very well.” Linton recently restored the old post office on the corner of Russell Street and Market Street to its beautiful former glory, winning the 2021 Governor-General’s Heritage Award for Excellence in Conservation.