History Burdens Alma's future
Impossible to finance redevelopment with heritage designation, owners say

By Ian McCallum Times-Journal Staff
Wednesday January 25, 2006

It’s time to move on, stress the owners of vacant Alma College, and that is why they have once again applied for a permit to demolish the historic school for girls.

In a letter sent to the city’s environmental services department just prior to Christmas, London lawyer Brian Worrad noted Alma Heritage Estates, a family consortium consisting of Brian Squires and the Zubick family of London, Ont. is seeking to demolish the four-storey Alma College main building dating back to 1877.

St. Thomas council has passed the demolition request filed by Alma Heritage Estates to the Municipal Heritage Committee who will report back on Feb. 8.

In October, 2004 Alma Heritage Estates announced it would proceed with its vision of constructing 66 retirement suites in the main building on the 4.4 hectare (10.9 acre) Moore Street property. Five months later the project was abandoned and the site put on the sales block. Spokesperson Jill Zubick told the Times-Journal on Tuesday they are frustrated by restrictions resulting from its designation under the Ontario Heritage Act.

“Nobody will touch that property (with the heritage designation). It seems it’s not possible to get financing to do the work. We’re very much hand-cuffed and people don’t want to be tied down with those restrictions.” She added the family has no further plans to develop the property which is zoned for high density residential development and their only recourse is to demolish the main building to make the site more attractive to potential purchasers. “We’ve tried as best we can to do the building as it is. And we’ve given the opportunity, through sale (of the property) for other people to do the same thing. They also have tried and they cannot do it. So we need to move on and that’s basically where we’re at.”

“A year has gone by and nothing has happened and the property hasn’t sold,” added Squires. “We either have to be proactive and do what we set out to do in the beginning (the retirement village) and if there is no interest in that then you have get rid of it (the main building) and sell the property so the developer can develop.”

Squires said he is frustrated by a lack of interest on behalf of the city. “The project is still do-able and I can still see it. I wish the leaders of St. Thomas would open up their eyes. They’ve got the future in their backyard and they don’t see it. The city needs to get involved.”

However letting the main building deteriorate further due to weather and damage from vandals is no longer be an option, stressed Squires. “I was always fighting to save it and if no one is interested in saving it then put it out of its misery.”