Enwin’s bid to sell downtown site has BIA concerned
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.
Enwin Utilities wants to sell its 1950s building and move staff to its Rhodes Drive facility.