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What's Going Up: Massive Newmarket commercial complex stalled by pandemic

Developer Rice Group submitting plans for next phase of 1250 Davis complex project

The massive new retail complex at the corner of Davis Drive and Highway 404 in Newmarket is ready to take its next planning step after grappling with pandemic-related delays.

Rice Group Inc. seeks to pre-pay development charges to Newmarket for the project's second phase, according to municipal staff, and is ready to make a site plan submission. The second phase will add a large-format retail store to the south end of the 1250 Davis Dr. and 1240 Twinney Dr. property bordering Newmarket's industrial plaza.

The town has said the development's first phase — which includes eight retail commercial buildings —- is under construction, but has faced pandemic-related uncertainty.

“The COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted many industries globally, including retail. The owner has cited that the delay in moving forward with the redevelopment was, in part, due to the related impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses,” municipal senior planner Phoebe Chow wrote in a report for Oct. 4’s committee of the whole meeting. “Specifically, phase two was put on hold pending tenant confirmation of the contract to move forward.”

Phase one of the project is under construction and received site plan approval in 2020, involving 109,567 square feet. The site formerly hosted an automotive manufacturing and warehouse building demolished five years ago, with Rice Group’s brochure indicating permitted uses include retail, restaurants, personal services and a hotel.

“Construction in phase one is being completed as per market demand,” town planning and building director Jason Unger said. “The town is tracking the construction progress for all developments in Newmarket from an engineering and building code perspective.”

Rice Group has declined to comment and has not provided any public updates on the development's progress. The company has advertised to prospective retailers, but it is publicly unknown what businesses will reside on the property.

The vision for the property includes 1,300 parking spaces, according to a brochure for the project. The Rice Group website indicates there was an initial spring 2021 possession date for phase one of the development. 

The company is trying to take advantage of a development charge discount. The town’s bylaws reduce charges if a property structure is demolished within 60 months before the start date of charge payment. With their reduction period expiring Oct. 31, Rice Group seeks to pay development charges for phase two early for the discount, which town bylaws allows.

Development charge pre-payment is unusual, according to Chow’s report, but she said it may come up more due to the pandemic.

“Staff do not anticipate there will be many pre-payment agreement requests from other developers. Despite that it is an option available in accordance with the town’s development charges bylaws, typically, developers would not pay development charges in advance of planning or building permit approvals as pre-paying development charges poses financial risk,” she said.

The exact timing of Rice Group’s site plan submission for the next phase of the development is unknown. NewmarketToday will provide updates as the project progresses.