A major urban renewal program is underway in the City of Kitchener, Ontario.
In a series of stories the Kitchener-Waterloo Record newspaper has reported on two large scale land assemblies on sites in downtown Kitchener. One site, known as the Centre Block, is the block bounded by King, Young, Duke and Ontario Streets. The other, known as the Market Block, is bounded by King, Eby, Duke and Cedar Streets.
The City has spent over $11.5 million since 1999 to acquire these properties. When the buying spree started, the City's objective was to prevent an adult movie theatre from operating. The City purchased the theatre property before it opened. However, the scope and scale of the City's project expanded rapidly and many other acquisitions followed.
A development concept has now been prepared for the Market Block and a private developer has agreed to participate in the project. Most of the land has now been acquired although at least one property was still in private hands in mid March. The City's Community Services General Manager has stated that the City will spend a maximum of $18.1 million on the Market Block project including land acquisition. The private developer, Barrel Works Inc., will contribute $12 million. The project will include upscale residential development and a public market facility.
Development plans for the Centre Block are sketchy at this time. However, the City invited development proposals from the private sector in January 2002.
The City's early purchases were made through a third party, apparently to avoid disclosing its interest to the property owners. However, after its intentions became widely known, the City turned to threats of expropriation to assist in completion of the assemblies. Nevertheless many of the properties were acquired without formal expropriation.
Kitchener's venture into real estate development mirrors somewhat an urban renewal project in Toronto. In that City, 74 businesses were expropriated six years ago to make way for an urban renewal project. Many of the compensation claims arising from that project remain outstanding.