The owner of a largely untouched commercial development in Barrie’s core says he's working on a concept he hopes will make it and the city’s downtown a greater attraction.
In fact, said David Morrison, president of Morrison Financial based in Toronto, the Collier Centre — a nine-storey, mixed-use development at Collier and Mulcaster streets adjacent to the unrelated Lakeview Condos — is being renamed the Lakeview Corporate Centre.
“I have to create a new vision for downtown Barrie,” said Morrison. “I’m very committed to that, I almost have to social engineer it. I’m very much engaged in that task right now.”
The building, as it was being developed, has gone through three owners, with the first two ending in disaster.
The original developers, Mady Developments, eventually went bankrupt. In 2015, Fortress Real Developments took ownership. But financing was conducted through syndicated mortgages, along with dozens of other developments across the country, many of which ultimately failed after raising more than $900 million from 14,000 investors. A series of ongoing of lawsuits and investigations have resulted.
When Fortress defaulted on its first mortgage for the Barrie complex, Morrison Financial eventually took it over.
There are currently two tenants: BMO and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. Much of the remaining 182,000 square feet, including a six-storey office tower, remains empty.
Morrison says there were negotiations for a significant portion of the tower, but the pandemic declared in March brought discussions to an abrupt end, “like a brick wall."
And as organizations were forced to quickly pivot, many recognized the value of having people work from home and began rethinking how they might use office space in the future.
“People are not leasing office space… they’re not even using fully the office space that they’ve got,” he said.
Morrison expects that will soon change as companies and employees begin to recognize the value of gathering together in one location and the benefits that brings, both socially and for the organization.
But, in the interim, Morrison says he’ll be patient.
He says he will only consider blue-chip, institutional or government entities as prospective tenants along with well-recognized professional firms. The intention, he added, is to maintain the building as Class 'A'.
Morrison refuses to allow the dramatic impact imposed by the pandemic to quell his excitement for future plans.
He said he has been in contact with members of the community with the eye of developing a single-concept approach to the retail and commercial space — possibly also making use of the six-storey tower on top of a three-storey commercial and parkade podium.
In fact, he has put together a presentation he's using to pitch his idea. He continues to explore the possibilities and isn’t yet ready to publicly announce his idea.
“I have a particular vision and, until I decide whether that vision is going to go forth, I’m not really entertaining a lot because I don’t want it to interfere with the ability to execute this vision,” he said.
Marg. Bruineman, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, barrietoday.com