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This former bar in Windsor is being converted to 16 one-bedroom lofts. Already there is a long waiting list for units. ((Andrea Lee/CBC))

In a bid to bring life back to Windsor's downtown core, city councillors in the southwestern Ontario city have approved a plan to turn a rundown bar into residential lofts.

The 99-year-old building has housed doctor's offices, a bank, and several restaurants and nightclubs over the years, most recently Bentley's Roadhouse. 

In the 1990s, the bar was a favourite for young American tourists from nearby Detroit, located across the Detroit River in Michigan. Business declined after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when tightened security at the U.S.-Canada border made crossing into Windsor more difficult. Bentley's Roadhouse finally turned off the taps in the summer of 2008.

The building's owner, Entertaining Assets, eventually gutted the building with plans to build 16 one-bedroom loft-style apartments and a laundromat, an idea Windsor's mayor and city council fully support.

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A worker helps carry out renovations to the former Bentley's Roadhouse in downtown Windsor. ((Kim Kristy/CBC))

"This residential re-use of an existing commercial structure would have a positive impact in the transition to a vibrant city centre in this area, possibly bringing new residents to the downtown area," wrote Jim Abbs, a senior planner, in a report to council.

"It is absolutely exciting," Mayor Eddie Francis said at a council meeting Monday night.

"I think it's very compatible with the plans ... and complementary to the renewed face of the downtown that we're experiencing," Francis said.

Hundreds on waiting list

The renovation project will cost $1.3 million, and will receive a $400,000 grant from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation through the residential rehabilitation assistance program.  

The grant is for income-based housing, and requires the building's owners to charge renters $650 a month for a one-bedroom loft, including utilities.  

"For the market that we are attracting and the price that we have set, which is required by the CMHC grant, there are 900 people on the waiting list," said Dario Silvaggi, one of the building's owners.  

Silvaggi said potential tenants should not be concerned about noise from downtown nightlife.  

"We operate three nightclubs in that same area," he said. "We know that the entertainment is shifting more north, so we think that it's a viable project in that area." 

The development is expected to take one year to complete.