A former Home Depot outlet next to Windsor's popular Devonshire Mall - vacant since 2008 and for a while home to hundreds of seagulls - is slated to become part of a $30-million retail and commercial development.
Windsor-based developer Rocco Tullio said he is close to executing a plan to redevelop the site and the adjoining former Union Gas headquarters. A deal to acquire the massive Home Depot site is expected to close in late December, said Tullio, owner of Rock Developments, which has put up commercial centres across the province and owns the site of the former Union Gas offices.
"I would expect that construction will begin in spring of next year with occupancy available early in 2015.
"We already have two major tenants on board, one taking 30,000 square feet in the former Home Depot store and another taking 45,000 square feet on the Union Gas property.
"They are both retailers who are new to Canada and they're looking to establish a footprint in this region," said Tullio, who declined to identify them.
Tullio also plans to build a new commercial pad in front of the old Home Depot store which would become home to a national restaurant chain.
Tullio has had his eye on the Home Depot site since mid-2009 but local market conditions, at the height of the recession, and other projects across the province kept him from moving ahead.
"I'm confident there's a market for more retail in this area but ultimately, that decision will be made by our tenants," Tullio said.
"It's an exciting time and I get a sense there's more activity in the marketplace. The (Detroit Three) now have stable contracts and that's a huge, huge plus for retailers.
"There's certainly been more interest in these properties in the last little while.
"Based on the identity of the two large tenants, we have received significant interest from other retailers seeking to be part of the same development."
It was a client of Tullio's, who operates a business in one of his other developments, who recently urged him to take a fresh look at the Home Depot site.
"This client wants a presence in the region for one of their other businesses and, based on the relationship we've developed over the years, they thought this would be an ideal time to move into the Windsor area," Tullio said.
With Devonshire Mall recently adding Target and Buffalo Wild Wings to its roster of stores and Walker Road's retail centre just minutes away, Tullio's development adds another powerful concentration of retail stores to a highly competitive neighbourhood.
"We believe the development will complement Devonshire Mall, add value and bring more retail traffic to the area," Tullio said. "We don't believe we'll be competing so much as complementing each other. We share a common roadway as well, so that should help us all."
Chris Savard, general manager of Devonshire Mall, said he welcomes the addition of more retail to the area.
"Generally, having a critical mass of retail congregating in one area is good for business," Savard said. "We have six million visitors a year and that will be good for his tenants, and customers attracted by his tenants will be good for ours.
"And from a planning perspective, it's always preferable to infill sites such as this rather than continuing to spread out.
"If you can replace these vacant spaces with vibrant retail, it's good for consumers, for business and the city in general."
Tullio said work on the Home Depot site could begin fairly early in 2014 since it will only involve shearing off the front of the building, subdividing the 80,000-square-foot space and rebuilding the facades to new tenant specifications.
"We wouldn't need site plan approval since we're essentially renovating the site," Tullio said. "The Union Gas site will take a little longer because we have to demolish it and then make a site plan application for the new development."
Tullio said he expects demolition of the Union Gas building to begin within seven to 10 days.
Since it closed in 2008, the Home Depot site has been home to thousands of gulls and other birds who have left their telltale signs all over the property.
"It's been dormant for years and Home Depot is happy to have it off their books," Tullio said.
Tullio said the development will add almost a half-million square feet of retail space to the area, in addition to creating jobs.