ESSEX — A Kingsville businessman who wanted to build a boutique hotel in the village of Colchester has withdrawn his offer to buy the Bagot Street schoolhouse property and will pursue alternative sites for his development.
Jim Flynn, whose family operates the Grove Hotel in Kingsville, said opposition from local residents forced him and his partner, Kim Lewis, to abandon plans to renovate the school and surround it with 14 stand-alone, cottage-style units.
At a January meeting of Essex council, opposition to the plan centred on the proliferation of Airbnbs in the village and preservation of the historic, 140-year-old school.
Flynn said he felt he made convincing arguments that his proposed hotel was not an Airbnb, but said preservation of the school was the main focus of local opposition.
Town council deferred a decision on selling the property to the Flynn group until mid-March and asked for alternative proposals for the property. The Flynn group was not prepared to wait.
“We have enough opportunity that we’d rather do business in a community that welcomes our investment. It’s that simple,” Flynn said.
He was doubtful an alternative use would be found for the building. “Unfortunately, I think we will see relatively quickly that nothing will be done with (the school). The town has owned it for 14 years and nothing’s been done to it…. I think we’ll see another 14 years and nothing gets done with that site.”
He said he and his partner have not abandoned their hotel plans and are looking at sites along the Kingsville, Colchester and Amherstburg wine route. They are also looking elsewhere in the province.
Flynn told councillors last month the hotel would generate $1 million a year in business at the hotel and surrounding businesses.
I don’t blame them from walking away from it, but I’m just grateful they’re still looking around and they haven’t written off Colchester or Essex. There still is hope.
Perry Basden, president of Heritage Colchester, said his group applied for non-profit status with the Ontario Historical Society earlier this month. Once it becomes a non-profit corporation, Heritage Colchester can seek recognition as a charity by Revenue Canada and then start seeking donations to renovate the schoolhouse, he said.
Basden said his group is looking at recreational uses for the property, including a fitness and yoga centre, basketball and volleyball courts and a rest centre for cyclists. One of Heritage Colchester’s proposals involves local schoolchildren visiting the school and learning the three Rs — reading, writing and ‘rithmetic — with a teacher dressed in period costume. Basden said the visit to the school could be done in conjunction with a trip to the J.R. Park Homestead.
The 2012 Colchester Centre Landscape Master Plan suggested various uses for the schoolhouse, including a recreation centre, a community market and a venue for live entertainment.
Coun. Chris Vander Doelen expressed disappointment at Flynn’s decision but said town officials are still in communication with the Flynn group.
“I don’t blame them from walking away from it, but I’m just grateful they’re still looking around and they haven’t written off Colchester or Essex,” he said. “There still is hope.”
Coun. Sherry Bondy said the town is still interested in working with Flynn and Lewis and has an alternative site in mind. She offered no further details.
“What the community is really saying is they want development in Colchester but they didn’t want it at the old schoolhouse because it’s a residential/heritage area,” she said.
Heritage Colchester president, three others receive
Town of Essex preservation awards
Heritage Colchester president Perry Basden was among four people honoured recently with a Heritage Preservation Award by the Town of Essex.
Basden was a vocal opponent of a proposed boutique-style hotel development on the site of the historic Colchester schoolhouse and is leading an effort to restore the 140-year-old building.
He told the CBC’s Chris dela Torre in an interview broadcast Tuesday that he is a relative newcomer to heritage preservation, getting involved in the effort to restore the Colchester school in December. He said that when he learned the town had declared the property surplus to make way for the development, he was determined to get involved.
“This just can’t be,” he said. “They can’t sell heritage like that, like it’s a commodity.”
The development plan has since been withdrawn.
Basden said Heritage Colchester, formed as a non-profit affiliate of the Ontario Historical Society, will forge ahead with plans to restore the schoolhouse for community use.
Also honoured by the town were:
Elise Harding-Davis for her dedication to the preservation and promotion of African-Canadian history.
Chris Carter for his books detailing the history of area villages and hamlets past that, without his work, would be lost.
William “Bill” Gay, who died earlier this year, was posthumously honoured for his efforts to save and fundraise for the Essex train station and for sharing his historical knowledge with the residents of Essex. His wife, Marlene Markham-Gay, received the award on his behalf.
“These awards raise awareness of the importance of heritage preservation to our social and economic development by recognizing individuals and organizations who exemplify what it means to honour and celebrate our community’s past,” Mayor Larry Snively said in a news release. “Congratulations to all these hard-working individuals who help us celebrate the town’s amazing heritage.”