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Waterfront District BIA hopes for redevelopment of Eaton's building

U-Haul backed away but BIA feels other parties are interested

THUNDER BAY — When word came down from U-Haul recently that it was no longer considering buying the former Eaton's building, Jim Comuzzi was feeling mixed emotions.

On the one hand, the chair of the Waterfront District Business Improvement Area was thinking new ownership might have meant revitalization for the north core's one-time anchor department store.

On the other hand, Comuzzi didn't feel it was a good idea to use the building just for storage.

As it turned out, the property isn't zoned for that type of use in any case.

City planning officials say it was designated "strategic core" in Thunder Bay's official plan and is zoned Central Business District.

A storage facility is not an approved use in a CBD zone.

City hall never received an application to rezone the site.

Comuzzi had made inquiries about that when he first heard about U-Haul's interest months ago.

"We were enamoured by the fact that it wasn't going to be vacant ownership, that somebody was actually going to spend money on the building and maybe bring it back to its original stature. What we were questioning was whether there was going to be any retail. We never heard what the plans were," Comuzzi said.

He added that just having 150,000 square feet of storage space "in the most valuable piece of property in the downtown area" wouldn't be the best use as far as neighbouring businesses were concerned.

Comuzzi said the BIA had hoped it might be able to co-operate with U-Haul and "do something" with sections of the building fronting Red River Road and Court Street.

"Retail space or something that would be more conducive to the rest of the businesses in the downtown core," he said.

Although U-Haul backed away in March, Comuzzi believes there are other parties exploring the acquisition of the old department store.

"I can't say right now, but I think we'll hear something positive within the next month," he said.

Recent attempts by reporters to reach the current owner were unsuccessful.

Comuzzi said the individual has connections to Thunder Bay, but lives most of the time in another part of Canada.