Guelph’s Fusion Homes to redevelop historic W. C. Wood site


Guelph’s Fusion Homes to redevelop historic W. C. Wood site

Vik Kirsch, Guelph Mercury

September 3, 2011

GUELPH — An historic city site is slated for redevelopment into a mix of residential, retail, restaurant, office and public space with the site’s acquisition by Fusion Homes, headed by builder Lee Piccoli.

The sprawling eight-acre block on Arthur Street in the St. Patrick’s Ward is the former long-term home of the now-defunct W. C. Wood appliance manufacturer.

Piccoli plans to retain the historic flavour of the site and augment that with a renewed focus on public space along the Speed River waterfront adjacent its western flank.

It’ll all tie together seamlessly, Piccoli, the firm’s president, said.

“I really feel like the whole project has to have one vision,” Piccoli said, thrilled as a Guelphite to work on a site that dates to the city’s founding in 1827 by Canada Company explorer John Galt and associate Dr. William (Tiger) Dunlop.

“For me, this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the city of Guelph,” Piccoli said.

Mayor Karen Farbridge sounded equally intrigued. “I think it’s terrific news,” the mayor said Friday. “It’s right in the heart of our early days as a community,” she said, pointing to a wealth of cultural and business history there in the city’s oldest ward.

She was also receptive to the proposed mix. “That fits well within the plans for the property,” Farbridge said. The area is included in a new downtown secondary plan proposal that comes before council late this year.

A potentially contentious issue is a six-storey height restriction currently covering the property. Piccoli would not discuss what height of development his firm would seek at the location. Farbridge said she expects the municipality will modify planning to allow some taller construction.

“It is anticipated to be higher than six storeys on part of that (site),” Farbridge said.

The Ward Residents’Association chairperson Maria Pezzano declined comment on the W. C. Wood property plans before meeting with others next week, but said her group “is discussing the opportunity and excited about the next step.”

The site was initially a Canada Company mill, then Allan’s Mill and later a foundry, the complex of buildings once housing a distillery.

Bert Wood founded a family business dynasty in the 1930s that moved to the site in 1941 and evolved from making farm equipment to household appliances. Son John Wood led the firm for many years. It was sold to a foreign equity firm before ceasing operations in 2009.

Piccoli announced purchase of the site for an undisclosed amount from Kilmer Brownfield Equity Fund, an arm of which is remediating the site over the next two years or so. The deal closes when that work is finished, he said.

“A lot of the demoliton’s been completed,” Piccoli said, with concrete recovered and crushed. “We’re going to reuse it on the site . . . which is cool.” It might be used in roads or construction backfill. “Lots of possibilities.”

Historic buildings, like the one that housed former W. C. Wood offices, will be retained, as well as an historic wall near the river.

“We definitely want the river a focal point,” he continued. “It’s a very significant, unique and rare feature for a downtown.” It even has a picturesque waterfall, he stressed.

“John Galt’s original vision for the city was to have a focal point at the Speed River.” That’s attested to by the main, broad streets fanning out from that area like spokes in a wheel.

Public space there, he added, will blend in well with any future waterfront development by the municipality along the Speed River artery.

He envisions the building components at the Wood site reflecting a “European, quaint” flavor that, together, creates an atmosphere reflecting the residential and industrial history of the ward.

The residences will likely be condominiums. Apartments? “We don’t build rentals right now,” Piccoli said, not entirely ruling this out as the company expands beyond building homes. A mixed development like this will broaden “the competencies and scope of the company.”

Development costs, he said, will run into the millions of dollars, declining to be more specific at this early stage.

Next steps? Piccoli said once the secondary plan is in place, the company will apply for zoning and seek site plan approval.

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