En­win’s bid to sell down­town site has BIA con­cerned

Windsor Star - - NEWS - BRIAN CROSS bcross@post­media.com

En­win’s plan to sell its 1950s Ouel­lette Av­enue of­fice build­ing and move close to 100 staff to it’s Rhodes Drive Op­er­a­tions Cen­tre should ab­so­lutely not be al­lowed, the chair­man of the down­town BIA em­phat­i­cally stated Fri­day. The con­sol­i­da­tion plan an­nounced by En­win that same day is not a done deal, be­cause the elec­tric util­ity’s board and city coun­cil (the City of Wind­sor is En­win’s sole share­holder) don’t want to leave if the build­ing ends up be­com­ing a va­cant un­used shell in the down­town, the elec­tric util­ity’s pres­i­dent and CEO Helga Rei­del said Fri­day. “I want to em­pha­size, we’re putting the build­ing up for sale but our board and our coun­cil are want­ing to en­sure there’s still a use for the build­ing,” she said. “We are con­cerned and anx­ious to see that the build­ing comes to a good al­ter­na­tive use and so we are look­ing for a buyer with that in mind.” De­spite those as­sur­ances, al­low­ing a such a city-owned en­tity and ma­jor down­town player to leave the core is sim­ply “not some­thing to con­sider,” said Larry Hor­witz, chair­man of the Down­town Wind­sor Busi­ness Im­prove­ment As­so­ci­a­tion.

“The mayor and city coun­cil should just end this spec­u­la­tion,” and stop it im­me­di­ately, he said. “Test­ing out the mar­ket and de­cid­ing if they should be down­town or not? Yeah, they should be down­town. It’s not a ques­tion.” The down­town build­ing was orig­i­nally the home of the Wind­sor Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion, which runs the mu­nic­i­pal wa­ter sys­tem. En­win now man­ages WUC and has sev­eral boards made up of a com­bi­na­tion of city coun­cil­lors and ap­pointed cit­i­zens. Mayor Drew Dilkens, who chairs two of the boards and sits on a third, was out of the coun­try Fri­day and could not be reached for com­ment. As­sum­ing there is a suit­able buyer, mov­ing the down­town staff into the op­er­a­tions cen­tre would save En­win money, “cer­tainly north of $300,000 a year,” said Rei­del, who said the down­town build­ing has ex­cess space and there’s enough room at Rhodes Drive to ac­com­mo­date the 100 Ouel­lette em­ploy­ees with­out an ex­pan­sion. En­win still has to de­ter­mine what it would get for the Ouel­lette build­ing and its ren­o­va­tion costs at Rhodes.

“As long as all the num­bers in the rest of this ex­plo­ration, be­yond our orig­i­nal es­ti­mates, come to fruition, then there would be a like­li­hood of us mov­ing out of the down­town,” she said. Rei­del said there is cur­rently no ask­ing price: En­win will be seek­ing pro­pos­als in the next two months on the prop­erty at Ouel­lette and El­liott Street. The first ad­ver­tise­ment is run­ning in Sat­ur­day’s Wind­sor Star. Any pro­pos­als would go to the board — and ul­ti­mately city coun­cil — in the new year. She said with a re­newed in­ter­est in down­town devel­op­ment, En­win feels the “time is right to make this cost-sav­ing move for the ben­e­fit of hy­dro and wa­ter ratepay­ers.” A mas­sive $6.8-mil­lion streetscap­ing project on Ouel­lette be­tween Wyan­dotte Street and El­liott Street is set to trans­form the area. In­cen­tives un­der the down­town com­mu­nity im­prove­ment plan have ig­nited in­ter­est in down­town re­de­vel­op­ment. The univer­sity and col­lege have set up sub­stan­tial down­town cam­puses. And the mayor has sug­gested the re­cent Quicken Loans’ an­nounce­ment to set up a tech cen­tre in the ren­o­vated Fish Mar­ket build­ing could be just the first of many Detroit-based tech op­er­a­tions mov­ing into the down­town. In­ter­est in the down­town, as well as down­town prop­erty val­ues, have been on the rise in re­cent years, Rei­del said. She said En­win has had in­quiries from com­pa­nies in­ter­ested in buy­ing its down­town head­quar­ters, an at­trac­tive, well­main­tained three-storey struc­ture that has more than 40,000 square feet of space as well as three nearby park­ing lots. Al­though it’s not his­tor­i­cally des­ig­nated, the build­ing is on the city’s mu­nic­i­pal her­itage reg­is­ter.

Ward 3 Coun. Rino Bor­tolin, who rep­re­sents the down­town, said if En­win did leave, it would be a sad day, but at least it’s be­ing done in a pru­dent way by en­sur­ing the build­ing has a new use. En­win said the Rhodes Drive cen­tre was orig­i­nally built to house all it’s em­ploy­ees. It has kept em­ploy­ees down­town in an over­sized build­ing de­spite that plan. Bor­tolin said if En­win is in­tent on leav­ing, now is prob­a­bly the best time to look at it, be­cause of the CIP and the re­newed in­ter­est in the down­town.

“If there’s ever a time that we can ac­tively bring some­one into that build­ing and to ac­tu­ally find ten­ants for it, I do be­lieve this is prob­a­bly the best time in re­cent mem­ory.”

If En­win does move out of the down­town, it hopes to set up some sort of cus­tomer ser­vice kiosk down­town to ser­vice down­town cus­tomers.

DAX MELMER

En­win Util­i­ties wants to sell its 1950s build­ing and move staff to its Rhodes Drive fa­cil­ity.

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