Arrested Development in COVID’s wake

Construction of Regional’s buildings 2A and 2B along the northern side of the Grande Allée is on schedule despite the challenges of the pandemic Photo by Linda Pallock

Construction of Regional’s buildings 2A and 2B along the northern side of the Grande Allée is on schedule despite the challenges of the pandemic Photo by Linda Pallock

John Dance

The face of Old Ottawa East has changed greatly over the last five years but, with the profound health, economic and societal impacts of the COVID-19 virus, the question is whether this trend will continue.

When the pandemic hit in March, developers in Old Ottawa East reacted swiftly, stopping or at least limiting construction activity on a number of sites.

The Regional Group and its EQ Homes, the largest developer in Old Ottawa East, sent all its workers home in late March and then proceeded to establish best practices rules for staff, contractors and clients.

Staff and contractors were and continue to be required to adhere to a “COVID-19 checklist,” which bans those with virus symptoms, those who have been in contact with others who have the virus or those who should be in quarantine because of recent travelling. On-site, rigorous physical distancing and proper protective equipment and practices were made mandatory. For instance, only one sub-trade could operate in a unit at a time.

The temporary work stoppage coupled with physical distancing has added about 30 days to the usual 240 days that it has taken to build Greystone Village homes, says Josh Kardish, EQ’s vice president. Construction of the large condominiums and apartments has been delayed more because of the constraints forced by such things as limited capacity of elevators.

Two specific consequences are that the complete occupancy of the finished ninestorey condominium just east of Saint Paul University (Terraces 1) was delayed by approximately three months and its companion condominium will have occupancies beginning in the summer of 2021. Work on the large condominium and the apartment building along the Grande Allée remains on schedule.

Also, planning approvals are now being sought for the “Spencer,” a nine-storey condo where the bus turning road is at present, and Regional plans to finish the project within two years of starting.

“Sales are still going great,” says Kardish, “We’re optimistic.” This fall, Regional intends to present to the community its proposal for development on the area just to the east and immediate south of the Deschâtelets building.

Greystone Village Retirement, the new residence just to the northeast of the Deschâtelets building, was scheduled to open on April 1st but the opening was postponed due to COVID-19. According to Juanita Cody, GVR’s director of marketing, “the owners felt the risk to residents, staff, family, and community was too high to have the residence open as planned – therefore other than security staff, the building remains closed although it is finished and ready for occupancy. We are currently unsure of when GVR will open,” Cody told The Mainstreeter.

In terms of Domicile’s Corners on Main development, Vice President David Chick says the short-term impact of the pandemic is “huge.“

Commercial retail tenants

“Prospects for renting the last two [commercial] bays have stalled with no new enquiries at the moment,” says Chick. “We are working with our existing new tenants on their ability (and ours) to qualify for the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program – the devil is in the details in many respects and we are sorting through these. We hope we are all able to ride this out and resume vibrant, full-service operations as soon as possible.”

“We own and manage the retail/commercial spaces at The Corners on Main Phase 2 so, as the resolution of the pandemic unfolds, we will experience firsthand the mid- and long-term impact on these spaces, ones that I think we all consider to be somewhat vital for the planned future of Main Street in Old Ottawa East,” says Chick. “I do believe that the community will do its part to support our retail/commercial tenants at The Corners.”

At the end of July, Domicile took ownership of the Sisters convent just to the north of the completed Corners condominium. The lot size of the convent property is about the same as the combined area of the two occupied phases of the Corners development. In response to the question of what Domicile proposes to do with this newly acquired land and its building, Chick responded, “Nothing to share at the moment. COVID-19 is on our minds in this respect as well. We are waiting and watching.”

Several community issues that pertain to the development of the convent site are what becomes of the Mary statue and its parkette on Springhurst Avenue and whether there will be a pedestrian link between Springhurst and des Oblats avenues east of the completed Corners condos.

Smaller developers impacted

Sales for the new boutique condominium at the northeast corner of Main Street and Echo Drive “have been moving along well,” reports Ryan MacDougall of Uniform Urban Developments. “COVID-19 did have an impact on Echo [the name of the condo] and it felt like we lost some momentum for a few months at the very outset. Having said that, we are already sensing resurgence in the market and have recorded some sales in the last month.” Construction may begin as early as next year “but this is a moving target,” says MacDougall.

The impacts of the pandemic have been similarly felt by smaller developers. Claudio Falsetto, president of Revelstoke Custom Homes and Renovations and an Old Ottawa East resident, says his firm initially had to shut down the renovations within occupied homes but, despite the difficulties of physical distancing and “the work process slowing down,” the firm has maintained schedules, experiencing only two- to three-week delays in various projects.

“The phones were quiet in April,” Falsetto notes. “People hunkered down and were scared. But in May there was a resurgence of interest. People looking at the long term, sitting at home, realized ‘I need a new bathroom or whatever, so there was an impetus to move forward, quickly.” By mid-July, Revelstoke had 12 renovations and five new homes underway in Old Ottawa East.

The economic impact of the pandemic on the City of Ottawa’s OOE projects is not currently clear. “The Greenfield Avenue, Main Street, Hawthorne Avenue reconstruction project is currently in design, with construction expected to follow in the spring of 2021,” says Luc Marineau, Acting Manager of the City’s Design and Construction Group. “The design work is proceeding as planned throughout the pandemic. Currently, there are no anticipated delays, however, the project schedule is being carefully tracked, monitored, and assessed for any potential impacts due to COVID-19.” At this point there is no news on the pandemic’s impact on the availability of funding for the planned new OOE community centre.

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