First Nations team up on Giwaa project

·4 min read

THUNDER BAY, ONT. — The former federal government building which housed the Court Street post office will become the new home for many residents and businesses thanks to an enterprising undertaking by Pic River and Fort William First Nations.

The Giwaa on Court Street project involves renovating the building to include residential and commercial units in the developing Waterfront District.

Ken Ogima, the president and CEO of Biitigong Nishnaabeg and president of Giwaa on Court Street, previously served as CEO for Fort William First Nation for four years. Ogima said one of the files that “first hit his desk” was the Federal Lands Acquisition initiative, which supports the transfer of surplus federal lands and buildings to eligible proponents at discounted or no cost for the development of affordable housing. Working with the Pic River Development Corp., an application was prepared and submitted.

“In that process, we reached out to Fort William First Nation (FWFN), advising Chief Peter Collins that we’re entering his traditional territory,” said Ogima. “I extended the opportunity for FWFN to jump on board and be a participant in the 33 Court St. acquisition.”

The project entails 48 residential units, 12,000 square feet of marketable commercial space and roughly 12,000 square feet of subterranean space that can be converted into long-term and short-term storage.

Working with the Federal Lands Initiative, Ogima says they partnered with the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) as their primary funder. Together with their equity contribution of almost $750,000 from the partners, some grants and forgiven loans, they were able to purchase the building and begin the design engineering phase to develop the current model in place right now.

CMHC requires that the renovation of the building must include a 55 per cent reduction in carbon footprint, 40 per cent of the units have to be converted to be handicap accessible and all residential units must be on upper floors. The bottom floors are reserved for commercial space. At least 50 per cent or more of the units have to be affordable housing, which is no more than 80 per cent of the median market rate.

Meanwhile, Ogima has joined the Waterfront BIA and says that makes perfect sense given that Giwaa on Court Street is going to be one of the largest development projects right now in Thunder Bay.

“The economic benefits specific to Thunder Bay is something that needs to be pointed out,” he said.

“And what I mean by that is every dime that we’ve spent on this project thus far, and going forward, will stay local. All of our current contractors, all of our support team, and even the contractors that were invited to provide tenders on the construction phase are all locally based. That’s more than $20 million that we spent on Giwaa on Court Street that is injecting back into the city of Thunder Bay through this project.”

The cost of the renovations could run up to $21 million. With the project entering the construction phase, tender packages will be received by Aug. 3, and Ogima says they will have a clear indication by Aug. 15 of who the contractor will be.

“From there, I would imagine we’ve got a 30 to 60-day start time and then 18 months thereafter when we anticipate the building to be turnkey,” he said.

“We know that there is going to be asbestos in that building and there are contingencies put in place for that. We are hoping it’s not going to be too bad, but we’re also prepared if it is.”

They have a variance of three to nine per cent of the overall budget set aside for environmental remediation.

“It’s thrilling to be part of this initiative,” says Cheryl St. James, economic development officer for Fort William First Nation. “It is absolutely inclusive of everybody. It was started to help our First Nations people that are not on reserve to provide housing, and it is inclusive of everybody who wants to apply to live in this beautiful building.”

St. James says they have some great plans from Form Studio Architects on the building design, which include the colouring and “that Indigenous feel” by having some wood incorporated into the design besides all the marble.

Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal

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