Niagara Falls builder Blythwood Homes buys waterfront property for $1.9 million
The site of the former American Hotel on the Niagara-on-the-Lake waterfront could become condominiums or a hotel, according to its new owner.
Blythwood Homes purchased the property at 61 Melville St. for $1.9 million on June 1 from Preiesenhammer Investments Inc.
The property is currently zoned maritime commercial, but Blythwood will seek to re-zone residential, company chairman Rob Mills said in an interview.
An open house for the property will be held Oct. 28 at 6:30 p.m., during which initial design concepts will be unveiled, he said.
The land is currently undergoing an archaeological assessment and Mills said there have been some “interesting” finds so far, including slabs from the early 1800s.
“Apparently there are some archaeologically interesting things in one corner of the site, which are being investigated,” Mills said.
He said the Niagara Falls-based company will be doing a full archaeological survey of the property, “so they’re able to dig up all of these things and document them properly.”
“I was hoping we could do like they do in Sweden, and when we renovate the property, we’ll have a glass booth displaying the artifacts. But they’re forcing us to send them all back,” he said.
Blythwood has been developing properties in Niagara-on-the-Lake for 35 years, including projects like Bayberry Lane, near Butler’s Burial Ground, and Tanbark Trail in St. Davids.
Plans for the property are largely dependent on the city’s zoning decision, Mills said.
“We had considered a hotel, which is a viable option. The zoning allows it – a hotel and retail type business operations, but we are looking more for something residential, which I think is more in line with the community. as there really isn’t a big mall and we thought a hotel might be too busy for the area.”
The firm is now in the stage of developing concept plans for the property, under the direction of Niagara architect Emilio Raimondo.
“We’re looking at probably 16 condominium units and will unveil our ideas to area residents at this meeting,” Mills said.
“Aesthetically we are looking for something different,” he said. “As it will not just be Georgian architecture like you find in other areas, but it will be something very distinctive and unique. So it will give more richness and variety to the neighborhood.”
The development will be completely new construction.
He is aware that there are people who think the existing building has significant historical value, but he said the building is in no condition for renovation.
“Obviously it was there historically, but in terms of an architecturally valuable building, it’s really outdated. It’s in very, very poor condition. It has no insulation and it’s not that structurally sound, so it’s not something we would consider renovating.”
When asked if maintaining the aesthetic of the old American hotel for a new build might be a good idea for marketing, he said it was something the architect could look into.
“Although you look at something like Harbor House, it fits perfectly into the neighborhood, but I’m sure it’s not based on any particular planning, is it? There are a lot of very beautiful buildings in Niagara-on-the-Lake that were not necessarily based on a historic building,” Mills said.
“I think the new building will definitely emphasize the balconies facing the water. So from that perspective, it will be a bit similar.”
He said that if the city did not approve the rezoning to residential, the secondary plan was to build a hotel.
“I think a hotel would work. Honestly, we just thought the problem with hotels was that you were going to have a lot more cars and traffic, so we really thought residents would be happier with something residential because parking is quite tight in this area.”
He noted that there is no potential in the dock area for an underground parking garage. Any parking should probably be at ground level.
Tom Elltoft, NOTL resident, estate agent and heritage preservation advocate, said he was surprised at the building’s low purchase price.
Elltoft said for himself that it would be “unfortunate” to see another piece of NOTL history disappear.
“Everyone is going to say it’s tired, it’s old and it’s run down. Well, it was actually on active duty with people staying there a year ago. I saw some people in the hotel room, so we know everything can be recovered,” he said. said.
Although it is not economical to renovate, he thinks it would be a good idea to have a historic design resembling the old American hotel.
“It’s not a bad option. The Prince of Wales additions have always looked like that,” he said.
“I was looking at this picture of the new plan they’re accepting for the end of Mississagua, the one that says heritage district or something, and that’s what made me think, ‘Why are we spending our money on identify a heritage district, when we are not even protecting the buildings that make up the heritage district?
Elltoft said he believes the city should “take control” of the development.
“Instead of catching up all the time, we need to be ahead. We need to be allowed to complete our official plan properly, embracing the new heritage areas and all that. There are a lot of good things in our official plan that will help protect and guide builders and developers,” he said.
“We are not going to stop development,” he said, adding that NOTL is known for its heritage and tourism. “You know, what do they say, ‘Don’t kill the golden goose.’ You have to protect him.”
“Protecting it doesn’t always mean you have to save the building if it’s in bad shape or if it’s so beyond what it used to be. The feel of what a heritage community is.