Grey Highlands seeks community input on future of Beaver Valley and Talisman Resort

·6 min read

What is your vision for the future of the Beaver Valley and the former Talisman Resort?

The municipality of Grey Highlands will begin public consultation around the former Talisman Resort property as part of its overarching Beaver Valley Community Visioning Sessions later this month.

“We plan to start conversations in April and I suspect this project will evolve through continuous conversations,” said Michele Harris, director of economic development for Grey Highlands.

On behalf of the municipality, the Planning Partnership consultation firm will be undertaking a virtual public workshop on April 28.

Grey Highlands council members approved a contract with the Planning Partnership for $12,000 to undertake the initial community engagement process of the Beaver Valley Visioning project in early April.

The Planning Partnership is the same firm the municipality has contracted to undertake its Downtown Markdale Visioning Project.

The workshop on April 28 will discuss various fundamental principles that may shape future planning in the Beaver Valley corridor, such as view corridors, natural heritage features, topography, focus areas, trail links, and community amenities.

"We anticipate that these preliminary discussions will be the beginning of longer-term conversations with the community. As we introduce the context for the overall visioning we will certainly be speaking to a number of factors that are going to be important considerations for the community as we move forward," explained Harris.

She explained that those factors include, but are not limited to: the municipality’s undertaking of an outdoor adventure tourism strategy and action plan focusing on the Beaver Valley corridor; challenges and issues the community is feeling related to over-tourism; opportunities for trails development; and ecological preservation.

Following the virtual workshop, a digital engagement initiative is expected to take place that will allow the public to provide a clear sense of their support, or lack of support, for the principles produced out of the initial workshop on the April 28.

The results of both these public consultation initiatives are expected to be presented to council by the end of May.

“This will help inform council in their decision-making processes and help gauge resident sentiment on this and a variety of issues,” Harris said.

The Beaver Valley Visioning Sessions are expected to include several discussions around the former Talisman Resort lands as they sit in the heart of the Beaver Valley.

Currently, the Talisman property is segmented into three parcels of land – two-thirds of that land is owned by the municipality and one-third is owned by the Ontario number company, 2420124 Ontario Inc., which is owned by Phil Calvano and Brian Ellis.

The land that hosts the former Talisman Resort has a rich history and, at one point in time, the Talisman held the title of Ontario’s largest ski resort.

The 200-acre property originally opened its doors on Christmas Eve in 1963 and over the decades was the backdrop for endless community memories.

In 2009 the resort ran into financial difficulties, claimed bankruptcy and was forced to close.

“The closure of the former Talisman Resort was a significant loss for the entire community and is still missed by residents and visitors,” Harris added.

During its financial struggle, $2.4 million in tax arrears developed on the property, and in 2013, the municipality of Grey Highlands made the decision to take over the property through a vesting process.

Grey Highlands then held two tax sales in an attempt to collect the $2.4 million in tax arrears but received no bids.

At the time, the council noted that doing nothing about the property was not an option as it had become a hazard after flooding damage and reoccurring break-ins.

“The municipality then severed off the top portion of the property (58.9 acres), and the remaining property (141 acres) was purchased by 2420124 Ontario Inc.,” Harris explained.

The Ontario number company purchased the 141-acre portion of the property for $1.8 million.

For the past several years, Ellis and his partners invested millions and worked diligently to restore the property and its original buildings.

However, substantial issues around drainage, mould, accessibility and fire code requirements dramatically increased the required budget and timeline to restore the property.

At the time of sale, the number company purchased the property in two segments – the lodge property (66.3 acres) and the golf course property (74.8 acres).

The numbered company met the mortgage terms for the lodge property and the mortgage was released from title in 2018.

However, in 2019 the municipality filed a statement of claim with the Superior Court of Justice to foreclose the golf course property.

“Approximately, two years ago, the municipality foreclosed on the former golf course property (74.8 acres), and ownership was transferred to the municipality,” Harris continued.

In early March of this year, the municipality announced it had formed a joint-venture agreement with the number company around the resort lands, which formalizes both party’s commitment to collectively market and promote the opportunities available within all three properties.

Since the signing of the agreement, both parties have been working collectively with thinkCOMPASS, a global consulting firm that specializes in helping businesses and government bodies strategize and execute plans for growth.

“The former Talisman Resort lands are the anchor properties in the heart of the Beaver Valley," said Luigi Presta, CEO of thinkCOMPASS. "Any future undertaking on these properties will have the opportunity to propel Grey Highlands and the region as a world-class tourism destination that offers remarkable products and experiences that are authentic, driven by visitor demand, exceed expectations, and align with the community cultural brand.”

Presta explained that the role of the consultation firm is to advise and guide the partners through the complexity of the opportunities that are available, and to provide expertise on how to protect the collective interests of both parties.

“Over the past months, we have been working with the municipality, Grey County, and various agencies, undertaking an extensive process of research and consultation, feasibility options and exploring best practices for sustainable community development,” he said.

“Based on the information we’ve garnered to date, we have been presenting the opportunity to any potential interested parties, responding to any queries that come forward, and continuing to seek out interest.”

According to Presta, any serious interest in the properties would need to be presented to each of the property owners in question and they will ultimately make the decision about how they each want to move forward.

“This initiative has the potential to stimulate an undertaking that would support job creation, attract increased investment in the community, provide a new stimulus to the municipal tax base, and encourage the building of new local amenities to support the community needs,” Presta continued.

On April 28, the municipality, through the Planning Partnership, will begin its initial conversation with the community about the Beaver Valley Visioning project. Two virtual sessions will be held from 1 to 3:30 p.m. and 4 to 6:30 p.m. The sessions are open to the public and you do not need to be a resident of Grey Highlands to participate. Interested parties can register online.

Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca