CBRM selects company behind closed doors to develop Sydney waterfront

Doucet Developments of Bedford, N.S., is proposing to erect four buildings with more than 400 residential and commercial units, plus parking, on Sydney's downtown waterfront. (Submitted by Doucet Developments - image credit)
Doucet Developments of Bedford, N.S., is proposing to erect four buildings with more than 400 residential and commercial units, plus parking, on Sydney's downtown waterfront. (Submitted by Doucet Developments - image credit)

A developer based in Bedford, N.S., has won the right to negotiate a deal that could result in several residential and commercial buildings on Cape Breton Regional Municipality's downtown waterfront property in Sydney.

Doucet Developments was selected by CBRM council during in-camera meetings — behind closed doors — from among three proposals after the municipality issued a request for expressions of interest.

The successful developer is excited to build a "legacy project" that could include four buildings with more than 400 units devoted to residential, office and retail spaces, as well as parking, said Doug Doucet, the company's CEO who grew up in Westmount, across the harbour from Sydney's downtown waterfront.

"I feel like we just won the Stanley Cup — and like Sidney Crosby won the Stanley Cup — and my crowd is behind me," he told CBRM council during a public presentation at Tuesday night's meeting.

The company released what it called "concept" drawings at the meeting, showing two six-storey buildings in front of the marina, where the Royal Cape Breton Yacht Club used to be, and two more five- to 10-storey buildings next to the cove that separates the property from the Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion.

Doucet said the exact details will be worked out over the next 12 to 18 months as the developer negotiates a memorandum of understanding with CBRM and gets input from the public and potential tenants.

Tom Ayers/CBC
Tom Ayers/CBC

The company has already been meeting with council, staff and others in the community, even though there has been no formal council vote to proceed.

"We've had a great experience understanding what the community wants, what they need, and we'll continue to do that," Doucet said.

"As we go through this process, we'll continue to have focus groups [and] community meetings where we can actually talk to people and engage people so they feel like they have a part of it."

That input will also help determine demand in the marketplace, which will ultimately shape the scope of the developments, he said.

Mayor Amanda McDougall said the municipality is excited by the prospect of waterfront development and called the public presentation an opportunity to introduce the successful proponent selected after the expressions of interest process.

Discussions on the potential land deal have been held in camera for months, which is allowed under the Municipal Government Act, and they will continue away from public scrutiny until a formal deal is reached, she said.

Only one councillor, Cyril MacDonald, had a public question for the developer, asking if he'd be willing to work with the owner of a parcel of land connected to the municipality's waterfront properties.

Tom Ayers/CBC
Tom Ayers/CBC

Chris Baldwin, chief financial officer for Doucet Developments, said they would be happy to talk with anyone about the potential for the area.

The mayor said council has already spent a "considerable" amount of time asking questions of the developers, albeit behind closed doors.

"We feel really positive about it," McDougall said. "It's exciting. This is a well-established and local developer, a fellow from Westmount, so yeah, this is a good news story.

"There is no deal yet. That's the thing. There has been no vote. That was an expression of interest, so everything is quite preliminary.

"Once we know the finer details of what Doucet Developments want to do, that is all going to be done in the public realm."

Brent Kelloway/CBC
Brent Kelloway/CBC

Harbour Royale Developments of Sydney, which owns a parcel of land in the middle of CBRM's waterfront properties, had an exclusive deal to develop the area until recently.

Owner Marty Chernin had proposed putting up a residential and commercial building on his land and offered to build a new library for the municipality on its properties nearby.

However, last year, council decided it was not ready to build a library and let the deal with Chernin lapse.

CBRM said it received three new proposals in February after issuing a request for expressions of interest, but one was rejected.

Company has 'strong experience,' says mayor

McDougall declined to discuss the other proposal council considered before awarding the development rights to Doucet Developments.

Instead, she said the successful company won over councillors and staff with its list of developments, including the new Microtel Inn and Suites in Antigonish.

Doucet said he runs several companies with over 500 employees involved in real estate, construction and property management, among other things, and he has willing partners who are ready to invest in Sydney's waterfront.

"That's really cool to see that this person has a strong and really tried and true experience in Nova Scotia," the mayor said.