Just when you thought the list of innovative projects for the revitalization of Sydney couldn’t get longer, it has.
Somerled Properties and DORA Construction owner Donald MacDonald is purchasing the former Sydney train station at 75 Dodd St. The derelict building is being demolished this week to make way for two huge modern and welcoming multi-living units, back-dropped by Open Hearth Park.
“It will be a substantial build with multiple levels,” said Clayton Bartlett, senior vice-president of DORA Construction in Cape Breton.
The two planned phases of the project include construction of the first multi-unit building to begin in the first half of 2021.
Bartlett said the building designs are still in the planning stages with the Cape Breton Regional Municipality to bring this development to life, but it will be magnificent.
What is known is that it will be an eye-catching design with green spaces on more than two acres of land, with Open Hearth Park in the back. However, plans are suggesting mixed-use buildings, combining residential and commercial with amenities like a coffee shop and deli on the main levels.
“I know that’s been talked about,” Bartlett said. “It’s all still under design but that’s a great possibility.”
The heart of the downtown is only a block away adding a prime location to the mix.
“It’s going to be a nice project, something people will appreciate,” he said. “It will be worth living there, something that will make you feel good.”
Following the announcement in November 2017 of the Nova Scotia Community College Marconi campus move to downtown Sydney, development projects have cropped up throughout the community. Bartlett said that also inspired MacDonald, who saw a need for housing.
“With what’s happening in Sydney it just came to fruition — it’s the right time.”
In the meantime, Bartlett said their project director Ben Dorey has visited some of their new neighbours to be. Bartlett said keeping people informed is a must to them.
“We’re all family here,” he said. “You can’t just go and start doing things without notifying people, at least that’s not the way we work.”
Meet Donald MacDonald
Somerled Properties Ltd., a Maritimes-based real estate development company, and DORA Construction, a commercial contractor, are headquartered in Dartmouth, with satellite offices serving Cape Breton and mainland Nova Scotia.
In a prepared statement, MacDonald said he is excited about the potential for this project to reinvigorate the area and create a renewed sense community, while providing much-needed housing for seniors, students and young professionals.
Multi-unit buildings are being planned by MacDonald across Nova Scotia but not just as places to live.
“We see them as extensions of the communities in which they are built — modern places built with warmth and using local wood materials that respect the history and culture of the surrounding neighbourhood.”
In Sydney, this project is coming to life on the former site of the VIA Rail terminal, which served the Sydney-to-Truro line for nearly two decades until its cancellation in 1990.
It has had various tenants since, including Canada Post Corp. and then Sweeney’s Gym, before it was vacated and fell into disrepair.
The 18,840-square-foot structure has been vacant for years and a matter of contention in the community due to its deteriorated state, boarded windows and graffiti.
Steve van Nostrand, owner of Keltic Kubota, adjacent to the former Sydney train station, said he was "absolutely happy" the building is going to be demolished, but also to hear a modern updated building will be built there.
“It’s a beautiful spot because it’s overlooking Open Hearth Park and easy walking distance to downtown Sydney, the Sydney boardwalk, Sobeys, Shoppers Drug Mart, the NSLC, the theatres,” he said. “It’s a really good location from a residential point of view.”
A few days ago, a project manager with the new property owners visited him, explaining the project will include commercial services on the building’s ground levels, such as a coffee shop and deli.
“It will be one more thing to bring people down to the area,” he said.
Van Nostrand said DORA Construction is even one of their customers.
“They’ve been great to work with over the years.”
Mayor-elect Amanda MacDougall
Newly elected CBRM mayor Amanda McDougall said the revitalization resulting from the Nova Scotia Community College Marconi campus is being brought downtown.
“It’s actually happening now,” McDougall said. “Sitting in my office I can actually hear the sounds of construction. There’s this confidence and this inspiration for people all around to join in that positivity and that growth.”
McDougall said newcomers and long-standing residents are purchasing buildings downtown because they are "recognizing that potential, how amazing to see a building that has been quite frankly an eyesore and a source of frustration for years by many people, torn down.
“It’s just the tip of the iceberg, I feel, on what’s going to happen in the next 10 years in our community as a whole.”
Dist. 5 Coun. Eldon MacDonald, who has been vocal on the eyesore of the derelict building to the community, said he's excited to see the demolition finally happening.
“I’ve waited quite a while for it knowing there was a new developer waiting to purchase the property, demolish the building and put a nice new project on the site.”
MacDonald said it’s taken longer than anticipated but he’s excited for what is coming forward for the site, which will be a fabulous addition to the downtown and to the neighbourhood.
Seeing residential and commercial developments like this is something MacDonald has advocated to council.
“It’s key that we have residential commercial establishments in the downtown core — that’s what, in my opinion, is going to make us successful going forward.”