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'Bring life into this old building': Newmarket's clock tower developers plan to preserve history in boutique hotel proposal

Town supporting project with up to $300,000 in development benefits
20211129-Newmarket clock tower-JQ
The Newmarket clock tower has been sold, with a proposal coming to turn it into a boutique hotel.

Streetcar Developments President Les Mallins has gained notoriety for turning old buildings into boutique, destination hotels.

The real estate company has previously converted places to create the Broadview Hotel and Gladstone Hotel in Toronto. Now, for their third such project, the company has its sights set on turning Newmarket’s clock tower into a place for accommodations, with a cafe, about 50-guest rooms and a rooftop terrace addition for an event space.

Although the company's forte is condos, Mallins said that is not what they look to do with “special properties” like this one.

“That would be a very unfortunate outcome, to turn it into essentially a private residence,” Mallins said. “Public buildings like this that are important to the community need to be opened up to the public, and there’s something really special about boutique hotels. Let the local community in, especially if you infuse it with cultural programming.”

Streetcar Developments has purchased the property alongside backing partner Dream, announced Nov. 19. They plan to develop there after years of the tower going unused after a previous development proposal fell through. The municipality has expressed support for the boutique hotel concept.

Mallins said the purchase was in the works for about 2-1/2 months before the announcement, though they were initially approached more than two years ago about it. The timing did not work out then, but they re-examined the property in August and it seemed like a good location to continue the boutique hotel chain.

They took a tour of the building in September with town officials, and Mallins said they saw the potential.

“It's a beautiful old building that’s been underutilized for a very long time. It’s central to an exciting strip, a historical strip of Main Street in Newmarket. It just feels like it has a lot of the same characterizations that motivated us to take in the Broadview Hotel in the first instance," he said." There’s an opportunity to bring life into this old building.” 

The town is giving some financial support to the development — up to $300,000 through the community improvement plan, meant to support redevelopment in the downtown and parts of Davis Drive. The support will happen through the deferral of taxes and waiving some municipal fees.

Mayor John Taylor said it is worth the investment. Once it is complete, the municipality estimates it could receive an additional $115,000 in property tax revenues over 10 years based on increased assessment values.

“Providing the incentive of waiving fees and charges in this instance are of added advantage to the town, given that in doing so it helps this exciting project move forward while not negatively impacting the existing budgeted revenues contained in the town’s budget,” Taylor said.

The project is still in the planning and design stages. But Mallins said they do plan to maintain the history of the building while adding to it, with ideas like backlighting the clock face. 

“Any time there’s a history of the building, build on that history and re-invent a prior use. Bring it forward,” he said, adding they have already brought in specialists they have worked with in the past for historic redevelopment.

“They'll … identify those opportunities to bring this building back to life. My guess its roof, masonry, windows and lighting will be the four components that will make this building shine again.” 

The project will have to go through town planning approvals in the coming months. Mallins said they hope to achieve that within four to five months.  He said they plan to engage the community after winter and aim for the hotel to open in the first quarter of 2023.