Renfrew -- It was at times a heated and emotional debate among members of Renfrew town council on whether or not to regain possession of the historic post office building that was sold to a private developer in 2018, and in the end council voted 4-3 not to pursue the option of reclaiming the building.
During its April 26 meeting, a motion was brought forward in relation to an agreement between the town and developer Rob Thompson that was signed in May 2018. One of the options was to release Mr. Thompson from the terms of the contract which included the provision that called for him to build a new boutique hotel within the building.
The post office, located at 249 Raglan Street South, was built in 1908 and the town purchased the building in 2005 for $300,000.
An assessment on upgrades required to properly keep the building open took place in 2017 and the decision to sell the building was reached after it was determined it required work estimated at $1.3 million, including replacing the windows, doors and roof, along with significant electrical work.
The building was listed for sale and although the building was appraised at a market value of $650,000, only one bid was received from Mr. Thompson for $100,000. The town agreed to the offer and Mr. Thompson bought the site with the intent of building the hotel.
When he took possession of the post office, provisions were made in addition to a hotel being built, and those included repair of the roof and electrical upgrades. Mr. Thompson did complete some of the work, but his schedule and financing fell victim to the effects of COVID-19 and caused significant delays. He informed council of his intent to stabilize the building as he finalized contracts for the repairs to begin.
Town clerk Kim Bulmer said that although many factors, mainly COVID-19, delayed plans for the boutique hotel, Mr. Thompson is still focused on stabilizing the building.
The agreement was set to expire on May 31 and if no action was taken, it allowed Mr. Thompson to maintain ownership with no guarantee a hotel would be built or if offered the town the option to repurchase the site and reimburse Mr. Thompson $50,000, one-half of the original sale price of $100,000.
Over the last few months, council has met in closed session to debate whether or not to proceed with the option of repurchasing the building or releasing Mr. Thompson of the obligations set out in the original bill of sale when the agreement expires on May 31, 2022.
Arguments For And Against Repurchasing
After Mayor Don Eady read the motion, it quickly became evident council was split on the two options.
Councillor Tom Sidney, one of the council members in support of releasing Mr. Thompson from the agreement, questioned the wisdom of waiting six weeks for the agreement to expire.
“In speaking with him recently, he does have plans for the future, including redoing the roof this summer,” he said. “There are things we need to take into account that really did impact him. I don’t think we’re going to change our minds and I don’t think we want the building back, so why can’t we let the man have it and let him get working on it?
“It doesn’t seem right to leave him twisting in the wind since he has indicated he is ready to begin some of the repair.”
Councillor Andrew Evans, who was strongly opposed to allowing Mr. Thompson ownership of the site, argued he has had four years to complete his obligations and said the town would be in a better position to reclaim the property and attempt to resell on the open market in the hopes of selling it closer to its appraised value of $650,000.
“Four years ago, we had an appraisal done by professionals telling us the building was worth $650,000 and then we sold it for $100,000 with the promise of a boutique hotel. Now with that commitment changed, should we not take the building back and sell it for closer to fair market value?”
Councillor Mike Coulas argued that as the owner of the building it is up to the individual what they want to build inside and it should not be a concern, nor do they have the authority to dictate to Mr. Thompson, or any owner of a building what they can, or cannot build so long as it is a legal operation.
“With all due respect, I don’t think this is the time to debate what we should or shouldn’t do with that building,” he said. “Here we have a businessman who owns the building, pays municipal taxes and he can’t complete the work originally agreed to because of the costs of repairs. It is about $400,000 just for the electrical repairs and now is not the time to be taking on the extra costs to fix a building.”
Councillor Sandi Heins said she was still waiting for a detailed plan for the future of the building from Mr. Thompson and was worried the discussions in closed sessions about why the delays took place could be viewed by residents as seen as “sweeping the issue under the rug.”
Reeve Peter Emon said the motion was brought forward by his request so that the details could be discussed in an open session to dispel any rumors and for residents to fully understand the major financial details of whether or not to repurchase the site.
“I think it is unrealistic for us to be holding up the agreement for a month when we know the agreement is just going to lapse and he will have lost a month to keep the contractors on schedule,” he said. “He has indicated he is ready to move forward and has contractors ready to get to work.
“We're very aware of potential liabilities and the investment we needed to bring the building up to a standard in order to sell it again. It’s best to release him early from the agreement and let him do his work because buying back the building is not an option.”
After more than 30 minutes of debate, Mayor Don Eady asked for a vote and Coun. Heins requested it be a recorded vote. Voting in favour of the motion to release Mr. Thompson of the terms of the agreement were Councillors Jamieson, Coulas, Sidney and Reeve Emon. Voting against were Mayor Eady and Councillors Evans and Heins.
Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader