Nova Scotia

Interest in Sydney waterfront picks up with downtown construction boom

The last time Cape Breton Regional Municipality sought development proposals for its downtown waterfront, only 1 bid was received. Now, it has 3 to assess.

CBRM has received 3 proposals to develop former yacht club property, when last call only drew 1 bidder

The Esplanade was closed for a couple of days this week as workers installed a pedway between buildings at the new NSCC Marconi campus construction site in downtown Sydney. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Prime real estate that used to be home to the Royal Cape Breton Yacht Club on Sydney's waterfront has languished for years.

But there is renewed interest in developing the land and officials say that is thanks in part to construction of the new waterfront campus for Nova Scotia Community College.

The Cape Breton Regional Municipality has received three bids to develop its waterfront property that lies between the Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion and the Holiday Inn hotel, marking a distinct change in attitudes toward development in CBRM.

"If there's three requests for proposals, I think that's a good sign that the business community is taking quite an interest in CBRM," said Paul Burt, the municipality's manager of building, planning and licensing laws.

"There's some major development and redevelopments going on with health care and education, so absolutely, it's great news for CBRM."

Municipal officials assessing the new development proposals did not want to comment.

Spokeswoman Christina Lamey said after evaluations are done, staff will discuss the bids behind closed doors with council and then make a recommendation at an open council session, likely within a month.

Burt, who is not one of the staff members working on the bids, said interest in development has really taken off since the province announced hospital redevelopments around CBRM and the construction of NSCC's Marconi campus in downtown Sydney, totalling nearly $1 billion.

A man stands on the sidewalk next to Esplanade, the main street into downtown Sydney.
Paul Burt, CBRM manager of building, planning and licensing, says the number of building permits grew 5 per cent in 2021, but the value was up dramatically, almost 86 per cent. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

The number and value of residential and commercial building permits started to grow in 2020 and shot up even more last year, he said.

The number of permits grew five per cent in 2021 and likely would have risen higher, except that changes in the building code meant minor renovations no longer required a permit.

"However, the value is up quite significantly, almost 86 per cent, which is quite a dramatic rise in the value of construction," Burt said.

The increasing construction is a mix of residential and commercial development throughout CBRM, he said, with much of the commercial interest in downtown Sydney and Glace Bay.

Joe McDonald, owner of the Coldwell Banker Boardwalk Realty office on Charlotte Street, which is Sydney's main commercial strip, said downtown real estate is hot right now.

"If you look back a couple of years ago, you could drive down Charlotte Street and there'd be three or four buildings for sale and they'd be sitting on the market for months and months with just price drop after price drop, and now pretty much anything that goes up, they're going [to have] competing offers," he said.

McDonald put three buildings and a parking lot on the market as a package on Wednesday, and said he had multiple offers by Thursday.

People are especially interested in the possibility of further development on CBRM's waterfront land around the marina.

"It's a really beautiful piece of property that should be developed," said McDonald.

The last time CBRM sought development proposals for the land, only one bid was received.

CBRM has received 3 new bids to develop the municipality's prime waterfront property in downtown Sydney. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Marty Chernin of Harbour Royale Development spent nearly four years trying to put together a plan, but it ultimately failed after being tied to the municipality's attempts to get a new library built.

Last year, council decided to not renew Harbour Royale's development deal and sought new expressions of interest.

At the time, Chernin said he would no longer do any business in CBRM, and this week, said he is not one of the new bidders.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 36 years. He has spent half of them covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

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