Alma College site back on property market

By Nick Lypaczewski
St. Thomas Times Journal
August 23, 2011

Owners of the Alma College site are hoping their latest efforts to sell the land will be a turning point in a saga in which the property's future has been unknown. Jill and George Zubick have put up For Sale signs around the site of the Ross and McIntyre Street property.

"It's a beauiful property. Our dream is to have it used for the people in St. Thomas for whatever would be good. It really has never been ours... . I get sad every time I think about it," Jill Zubick told the Times-Journal in an interview.

The approximately 10-acre property is currently zoned as institutional. The Zubicks have expressed wishes to see the site become a community home for senior citizens. However, one major caveat for prospective buyers in recent years has been a heritage designation requiring any future owner to rebuild the facade in the image of the old Alma College exterior, a requirement meant to preserve the site's historical appearance.

"That makes it very hard to resell because putting the facade on is very costly and yet, on the other hand, it would be good to have at least something there that would represent Alma. I'm not sure about a whole facade but we have to do what we are told," Zubick added.

However, Ron Postion, a realtor with Royal LePage Triland Realty commissioned by the Zubicks, says he has a meeting with groups in Toronto to discuss potential interest in the St. Thomas development. He adds he's optimistic that sections of the land can be converted to offices or recreational facilities.

"We've only been discussing this site for the last couple of weeks so it really hasn't given us enough time yet to explore other routes about what we could do with the site.... It's too bad that the building wasnt there. We're selling it as imagination more than anything else."

Postion plans to bring an architect and designer to the site to look at potential uses for the land. He says he remains confident a willing buyer will eventually emerge.

"Alma College itself is the attraction. That's what gains the presence and when you mention the school it seems to be, 'Oh my heavens, Alma College, I remember that school. That was the place where all those lovely ladies were.' "

The Zubicks are asking for $2.4 million.

Alma was destroyed by fire in May, 2008. Two teens were charged with setting the fire, and convicted.

Mayor Heather Jackson-Chapman saw the realtor's signs over the weekend. She says she's happy the Zubicks appear to have begun an aggressive marketing campaign. She adds the owner's efforts are due as the land has been left in a state of disrepair.

"It was May 2008 that we stood and watched the untimely demise of Alma College and it's been a drag out performance. I'm not sure what all the hold-ups were but it'll be nice to see some progress there because the property is in a disgusting mess. It's a complete mess," she said.

Alma College's main building - the one requiring the facade - had fallen into disrepair before the fire three years ago and the property has basically sat idle in the three years since.

Alma College was a private school for girls in operation for over 100 years until the 1980s.

Postion has been working with city planners on the project and says they've worked well together. "(St. Thomas) city planners are certainly very co-operative. They're trying to make something happen as well so it's not a one-ended, one-sided approach. They all want to work and try to achieve something for the city," he said.

Zubick adds, from what she's heard, city officials are agreed in their enthusiasm to establish a future for the land. "They're excited to see something happening there as we are too."