Farhi eyes area surrounding WFCU Centre for 'several hundred' residential units

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The cracked concrete and weed-filled lots surrounding the WFCU centre could soon be transformed into "several hundred" residential units and commercial sites, if Shmuel Farhi has his way.

The London developer, whose land around the sports complex has been left largely untouched for a decade, said he's working with city officials to get the zoning changed so he can start to build.

But the proposed project hinges on the city's plans to buy some of Farhi's land and expand the sports complex.

"We worked a deal whereby I give them the opportunity to acquire 15 acres, to be able to get the development, the second phase happen," he explained. "I don't think the city will go against it. I think it's a brilliant idea by the politicians to add to what exists already." 

On Monday city council voted to spend $90,000 to study the feasibility of adding indoor facilities for tennis, football and soccer at the centre, which already offers a pool and recently underwent $1 million in upgrades to its hockey rink ahead of the Memorial Cup.

After the vote Mayor Drew Dilkens said offering improved athletic facilities could help the city attract more sports tourism and would benefit both local teams and area residents.

Dilkens also said the expansion could encourage development, suggesting a hotel as a possibility, but Farhi, who already owns several hotels in Windsor, said his vision for the project focuses on people planning a more permanent stay.

"The residential market is up all over Ontario, so I think this wave ... reached Windsor, and we'll see how we're going to test the market there and see if it can take 50 units, 100 units, to 100 units or 300 units," he said. "Whatever the needs will be, we will build."

Commercial buildings would also be built to support the new residents, he added, pointing to a drug store and restaurant as options.

Hopes construction can start before end of 2017

Farhi said the first residence he hopes to build will be a "four- or five-storey" walkup with other buildings to follow when there's a demand.

The developer would not say whether or not the project would go ahead, if the city chose not to add to the WFCU Centre, but said he's been working with officials for months and hopes to get building soon.

"The sooner the better," he said. "The city would like to see the development happen very fast and I hope construction can begin before the end of the year."

Putting shovels in the ground before the end of the year is a bit too "aggressive," explained Dilkens, but he fully expects the projects will move ahead.

"Mr. Farhi's quite committed to moving forward with the residential component," he said. "Each of us has a responsibility so we're going to do a phase two environmental assessment on the land that we're interested in acquiring to determine whether there's any contamination."