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City and developers await decision on future of LPH property

An agency of the Ontario government says it's still identifying potential future uses for the property

THUNDER BAY — "The property is not currently for sale."

 That's the key part of Infrastructure Ontario's response to recent questions from TBnewswatch about the status of the former Lakehead Psychiatric Hospital.

Infrastructure Ontario is the Crown agency that manages the province's real estate portfolio.

In 2018, when St. Joseph's Care Group closed its transitional care unit at the LPH, the government listed the 144-acre property and 500,000-square-foot building as surplus under a plan to accelerate the disposition of unused real estate.

The City of Thunder Bay requested that the province keep it up to date on the process.

In 2020, Infrastructure Ontario commissioned soil-testing near a walking trail in a wooded section of the property, saying this was part of "due diligence toward maximizing future use."  

Earlier this year, at a meeting with Minister of Infrastructure Kinga Surma, a city delegation was told the minister and her staff had toured the LPH, and the government recognizes there are developers interested in it for housing.

Infrastructure Ontario did not reply last week to a reporter's inquiry about the timeline for the sale of the property, saying only that it is following its standard process.

"We've been undertaking various due diligence activities toward identifying potential future uses for the site," the agency said.

"Along with our due diligence requirements, we also manage a circulation process that considers potential use by other provincial ministries or agencies such as municipalities, Indigenous communities, non-profits, etc."

The statement added that once this process is complete, properties that are available for purchase by the public are posted on its website.

Councillor Kristen Oliver was one of the councillors who chatted with Minister Surma in January about the status of the LPH.

"She's very familiar with the infrastructure and the asset, and the current state that it's in, and work that would be required if it was to be refurbished or torn down, and those decisions have not been made. And that was basically about it," Oliver said.

Earlier this month, Thunder Bay firefighters were called to put out a fire suspected to have been started by trespassers, and numerous windows in the complex have been broken by vandals.

Oliver said she has concerns about the property staying vacant for so long.

"I sincerely hope that the building is secure enough that we're not running into any potential issues where it can become, you know, a challenge to address.

"The property itself is a prime real estate location for sure. And I know there are a number of developers that are really interested in that, too. So, are we missing out on any opportunities because this is taking such a long time?"

The councillor was cautious about criticizing the province, saying she understands the disposition process can be complicated, but she added, "This is certainly a lot longer, I think than any of us anticipated."

Mayor Ken Boshcoff describes the LPH property as "probably the best urban site in Canada available for housing."

He said the city has received several unsolicited proposals from developers, including "proposals far more comprehensive and expensive than just that little section."

The mayor didn't provide details, saying, "I can only say that it's definitely mixed-use concepts that have been presented so far."

Councillor Andrew Foulds, whose Current River ward includes the LPH site, said he hasn't heard anything official about the government's plans and that he has "a great deal of concern" about the lack of information. 

"I don't know if there are other complications that I'm not aware of. . .The province does have a process that they may need to go through."

Foulds said he continues to believe the portion of the LPH green space adjacent to Algoma Street should be developed, but he wants to see the wooded area behind the building preserved.

"I still have very strong feelings about the green space in the back and the protection of that green space as well as its role ecologically and with stormwater management. You know, that property is zoned institutional and future residential."

Foulds said many residents hike, bike, or walk their dogs on the trail network, and its future is "of heightened concern, for sure, with citizens...I just want to get clarity" on its disposition.

He reiterated that the east side of the property "where it's a big, manicured lawn is opportunity for development. . .That would be up to a developer, I think, to really manage that and make propositions on what that could look like.

"I'm not going to presuppose what that might look like. I would say that I have a bit of a bias that, you know, housing is a key issue for the City of Thunder Bay."



Gary Rinne

About the Author: Gary Rinne

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Gary started part-time at Tbnewswatch in 2016 after retiring from the CBC
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