The city’s long-suffering west end received a significant shot in the arm Wednesday – the second life line extended to the western gateway this year.
City manager Wendell Graves announced the municipality has extended a conditional offer to London developer Shmuel Farhi to purchase a vacant plot of land on the south side of Talbot St., between William and Queen streets, and extending to Centre St.
The site is being considered for development of a community hub to house the Ontario Works department and the Central Community Health Centre, both currently occupying office space along the north side of Talbot St.
Graves indicated discussions with both agencies indicated a desire to establish “an inclusive environment” to serve their client base.
“We certainly want to take leadership in our own urban design guidelines as it relates to the architecture of Talbot St.,” advised Graves. “That will be important when we get that far in.”
The property – once pitched by Farhi to Elgin St. Thomas Public Health as a possible new home – might also be considered for phased-in affordable housing units.
“We’re now in a due diligence period,” added Graves, “and we will be doing that until mid-August. There will be a report on council’s agenda on Monday to engage in an RFP (request for proposal) for architectural services so that we can get right underway with cost analysis for the site. We need to have all that information before we make the final decision.”
In conjuction with this expression of interest, the city has also entered into a conditional agreement of purchase with Farhi for the Mickleborough Building located at 423 Talbot St., the current home of Ontario Works, whose lease expires next year.
This stately structure, located at the corner of Mary and Talbot streets, dates back to the early 1900s. It stands just to the east of Phase 1 of the Talbot reconstruction project now underway in an effort to revitalize the thoroughfare west of the downtown core.
“We didn’t want to create yet another vacant building downtown so we’re going to be doing due diligence and looking at some housing on the second and third floors and take a look at potential uses for the main floor,” explained Graves.
So is the city getting into the housing business downtown?
“It would be part of our overall housing strategy,” advised Graves. “The link to the tenants and the clients there would fall under Ontario Works.”
“I think for the taxpayers, this is the right thing to do,” Farhi told the Times-Journal. “I’m very pleased to be a big part of making this happen. It’s good for me and it’s good for the city.
“I would much rather see a building preserved than a building that would sit empty.”