There are mixed opinions about what should happen with the old St. Joseph's Health Centre building, but the consensus among neighbours is that something needs to be done.
“It’s so sad to see it sit there,” area resident Helena Shewchuk said. “Just sitting there like that, it’s not right.”
Her kids and grandchildren were all born at the hospital, which she said increasingly looks like “squatters central.”
“Anything is better than what is there now.”
Shewchuk is one of several area residents Sudbury.com spoke with earlier this week while door knocking in the neighbourhood to gauge public opinion on the building.
Although one of the key inquiries had to do with what area residents want to see become of the property, they won’t ultimately have a say due to the property being in private hands.
The 2010 sale of the property to Panoramic Properties remains a point of contention for some residents who believe the city or province should have purchased it from the Sisters of St. Joseph.
At the time, the city’s offer was contingent on the sisters paying for the demolition of the building beforehand, which they indicated they were unable to afford.
“What happened happened, and now we’ve got to do as best we can with what we’ve got,” Ward 10 Coun. Fern Cormier said. “At the end of the day, it was approved for rezoning for residential use. … My hope is they’ll be able to move forward with realizing the project on the site sooner rather than later.”
The original plan by Panoramic Properties was to redevelop the existing building as a luxury condominium complex – an estimated $80-million project that got city approval in late 2012.
A series of public meetings described as raucous followed this initial approval, prompting the developer to alter their plans by moving more parking underground and boosting the landscaping around the condominiums.
Higher end condos in the 190-unit project were expected to sell for as much as $500,000 each, but the effort stalled alongside the softening of the housing market of the day.
The property remains vacant, and it’s unclear when or if Panoramic Properties will proceed with this or another project at the site. Earlier this week, company vice president of operations Angelo Butera indicated he was unable to comment at this time, but affirmed, “we have things in the works.”
Building permits have held steady in Greater Sudbury in recent years, with residential developing on an upward trajectory. There were 449 residential units created in Greater Sudbury last year, which exceeds the five-year average of 351.
City building services director and chief building official Guido Mazza told Sudbury.com earlier this week that this number would be even greater if there were more skilled tradespeople available to take on the work.
Although the old hospital building remains vacant, it isn’t unchanged, with California-based street and graffiti artist RISK (a.k.a. Kelly Gravel) heading a team in painting a colourful mural over much of the building as part of the Up Here Urban Art and Music Festival in 2019.
At the end of the 13-day project, the mural was left partially incomplete, with the lake-facing side remaining unpainted.
Area resident Margie Raskus, whose house faces the colourful building, said she loves what the team of artists was able to accomplish and is proud to have Canada’s largest mural (74,000 square feet) as a landmark so close to her home.
“It’ll become something new some day,” she said, adding that she’s hopeful Panoramic Properties proceeds with their project.
For now, however, she’s happy with what she sees.
Fellow Facer Street resident Mary Perry agrees that the mural has been a welcome, but hopefully temporary, means of sprucing up the property.
She’d like to see something happen with the property, at least in part because people have been breaking into the building and causing trouble. Although Panoramic Properties has always responded quickly, she said the building remaining vacant means it attracts negative attention.
“It’s such a prime site,” she said, pointing to its proximity to Bell Park and the fact it overlooks Ramsey Lake as key selling points. “It’s unfortunate to see it sit for so long.”
Although some people appreciate the mural, not everyone is thrilled.
The Sudbury Writers’ Guild tapped into these mixed feelings in a chapbook published last year called, “Painted Voices,” in which 20 local authors put pen to paper on their thoughts regarding the local landmark, which approximately 30,000 vehicles drive past every day. Poet Vera Constantineau refers to the building as a “bruise on the cheek of Paris Street,” while fellow writer Yvette Frank wrote that it “stands bright, colourful and seemingly full of life as a foreground to Ramsey Lake.”
A similar range of opinions was shared by area residents.
One area resident who asked not to be named called the building an “abomination,” while another resident said she’d like to see “anything but that” on the property.
“It would be so great to have something useful for everyone,” she said, adding that Greater Sudbury is severely lacking in waterfront attractions, and that it’d be nice to see a restaurant overlooking the park included in whatever plan comes forward.
“I think they should just tear it down,” another anonymous area resident said, adding that many people have likely died in the building over the course of its 60 years in operation as a health-care centre, and that it’s a “bad omen” at this point.
Her preference would be for the property to be absorbed by the neighbouring Bell Park.
For now, Cormier said the city is waiting on Panoramic Properties to take the next step.
“My impression is that the focus will still be on residential development,” he said. “I’d like to see them move forward with a development on the site, which was the original plan.”
The company has complied with city requirements to keep the property safe, including fencing it off, pay their taxes and adhere to all relevant provincial and municipal requirements.
There’s nothing the city can legally do to force them to do something with the property, he said.
“In the meantime, we’re being cautiously optimistic that the market and situation with the developer will put them in a position where they can move forward with something.”
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.