KITCHENER — High-end condos above an urban grocery store are planned for the former American Hotel at King and Queen streets.
A Guelph-based developer, OHM Development Group, has big plans for the three-storey building at 1 Queen St. N.
Now known as the American Block, it was built in 1862 by Louis Breithaupt, a leading figure among the city’s early industrialists.
Kannan Kanagiah, the chief executive officer and president of OHM, said he wants to preserve the historic features of the building while 22 luxury condos are constructed on the second and third floors.
“We are looking at a mid-sized supermarket on the ground floor,” said Kanagiah. OHM hopes to attract a high-quality urban grocer to the 7,400-square-feet of space.
The building’s only occupant today, Capers Sportsbar, will be moving out to make way for the redevelopment.
“We are looking at a mixed-use, commercial-residential development for that building,” Kanagiah said in an interview.
The condos will be a mixture of bachelor, one-bedroom, one-bedroom and den and two-bedroom units. High-end finishes — granite counter tops and stainless steel fixtures — will be marketed to young professionals working in the core’s growing technology scene.
The main floor could also include a restaurant and a coffee shop.
“Those options are open for us,” Kanagiah said.
Preliminary planning and work are underway, and the renovations should begin in earnest early in 2016.
Kanagiah said his company appreciates the historic significance of the property and will work closely with the city’s heritage advisory committee. He wants to maintain good relations with city officials as he eyes two other King Street properties in the downtown.
“We will be very careful what we are doing with the historical aspect,” Kanagiah said.
OHM’s plans underscore a trend that is slowly and steadily changing parts of the city core. As startups and technology companies expand in the city centre, housing, office space and amenities are following.
Most of the new development and restorations are located in the downtown’s west end, but OHM’s project is the third significant redevelopment to happen around the intersection of King and Queen streets.
Across the street, at 8 Queen St. N., Brick by Brick Developments and Voisin Capital bought a 90-year-old building that is being transformed into a high-tech workplace for the fast-growing startup Vidyard. This building’s history tells the story of downtown’s economic decline and renewal.
It was part of the Goudies department store that sat empty for years after the business closed in the late 1980s. The city could not sell the property for back taxes. Nobody was interested. Later, Themuseum located in one half, and an artist bought the other half that fronted on Queen Street for his studio and shop.
Nearby, Perimeter Development is doing a complete renovation and restoration of the historic Walper Hotel.
Terry Riddoch closely followed the changes to the downtown real estate market. He is the ReMax broker who represented OHM in this deal. And Riddoch stressed OHM is interested in other properties in the core.
“This is one of many that are coming down the pipe,” he said.
During the past few years, startups and tech firms began leasing space in the downtown. This activity is attracting the interest of developers and investors from the Toronto area. They are seeing the right mixture of people and work that can support redevelopment, Riddoch said.
The transformation is being driven by the “late 20s, early 30s, university-educated professionals” who are now working downtown, Riddoch said.
Two large condo projects, one beside City Hall and the other at King and Victoria streets, will be occupied in the coming months.
“All these people in the condos need a place to shop,” Riddoch said.
The historic building at 1 Queen St. N. attracted offers from two other interested developers since OHM purchased it a few months ago. But OHM is not interested in selling.
“They are in for the long haul, both in this building as well as other projects they are moving on in downtown Kitchener,” Riddoch said.