London developer purchases 11-acre site of former school for girls

Ian McCallum
St. Thomas Times-Journal
March 10, 2016

Reduced to a neglected jumble of bricks, rubble and a couple of crumbling structures, the former Alma College property has been sold to a London-based property manager. The deal closed Monday and Gino Reale, who deals in real estate development and land acquisitions, confirmed Wednesday he is acting on behalf of a group of investors.

The 11-acre site had previously been owned by the Zubick family of London who purchased it for approximately $900,000 in 1988. Under the corporate name Alma Heritage Estates, several proposals were put forth by the Zubicks including a pitch to the city to locate a new Valleyview Home on the Moore St. property.

In 2005, Alma Heritage Estates applied to city for a demolition permit to level the former school for girls. The following year, a group led by Andrew Gunn of St. Thomas approached the Zubicks with an offer to purchase the property to house a liberal arts college in the former four-storey main building that succumbed to fire in May, 2008.

Surveying the remains of the former school for girls built in 1878 and in operation between 1881 and 1988, Reale said he has two immediate goals for the property.

"I want to clean up the site and get rid of all the garbage and concrete that's spread everywhere and then we're going to do an environmental assessment. That's all I can do. And hopefully, during that process we're going to get ideas from people and our (investment) group. Then we'll come back and put a plan in place."

As to the composition of his backers, Reale would only say "I'm assembling a number of people that have some creative ideas. We will be looking at this and try to put together ideas to present to the public and the city. I would like to get positive feedback." He added, "I bought the property for a group of people who will be coming onside pretty soon."

Reale was hesitant to reveal the purchase price of the property which had been zoned for an apartment development. "The price is convoluted because there were back taxes," noted Reale. "To quote a price, I'd rather not do it at this time. The value of the property has fluctuated. The Zubicks paid $900,000 in 1988 and the appraisals came in at $3 million. We paid on it based on a number of factors."

As for what remains of the orginal chapel and the music building, both in advanced state of neglect, Reale said "We will assess the costs of whatever we're going to do with them. Whether it's tear them down . . . but we're not going to rule anything out." The immediate task, Reale stressed, is to stop the neglect and ideally start the process this spring. "I'd like to bring equipment on here to start levelling the property off, getting rid of the garbage and securing it. That's my commitment up front. It will take huge amounts of money. But my group is financially secure."

In a letter to the editor on page 7, the Zubicks write the sale "brings both relief and sorrow to us. It has been a long, long journey and it is good to be done. Unfortunately, we never realized the dream of rebuilding Alma."

The Zubicks also expressed frustration on their dealings with previous city councils. "Many times we approached you and you would not work with us. We have had developers expressing interest and you would not listen to their plans. Your demands were detrimental to the property and beyond reason."