February 2, 2012

Developer gobbles up core properties

New owner pays city $1.5M in tax arrears


London-based developer Shmuel Farhi has purchased the vacant lot once known as the Docherty hole and the adjoining City Centre Mall at Riverside Drive West and Church Street. He also owns a parking garage on Pitt Street.
Photograph by: Dan Janisse, The Windsor Star, The Windsor Star

London-based developer Shmuel Farhi has gobbled up another pair of prime commercial properties in Windsor's downtown.

In a forced power of sale completed Tuesday, one of Farhi's corporate entities acquired adjacent properties at 333 Riverside Dr. W., home to the underutilized City Centre Mall, and 369 Riverside Dr. W., a vacant lot once dubbed the Docherty hole.

One of the first things the new owner did was settle two of the city's biggest property tax accounts in arrears, with a total amount of almost $1.5 million that had been owing.

The Docherty hole, a longtime eyesore for which the city obtained a court order in 2007 to have filled in - with the cost of more than $500,000 added to the owner's tax bill, was in arrears almost $840,000 as of Dec. 31, The Star has learned.

The City Centre Mall, attached by an overhead pedestrian walkway to a parking garage across Pitt Street that Farhi purchased for $4 million in 2010, owed more than $642,000 in tax arrears. All three properties were once owned by developer Bill Docherty.

Farhi, who owns millions of square feet of commercial property across Ontario, told The Star he has no specific plans for his new acquisitions. "I don't know ... we're looking at everything that makes sense," he said.

He wouldn't say what he paid for the properties.

Farhi described his new office mall as rundown - "like a cruise ship without a captain" - and said he plans a cleanup and renovation "to bring it up to our standards."

He said "considerable money" will also be poured "very shortly" into upgrading his parking garage on Pitt Street.

Farhi's holdings now surround the Art Gallery of Windsor and the adjacent future aquatic centre, an area that will also soon be home to the library's central branch and, as recommended by a consultant's report that went to council this week, a new community museum.

Farhi acquired a 1.1-acre parcel to the west of the art gallery as part of a land swap with the city that led to construction of the WFCU Centre.

In 2010, Farhi also acquired two half-acre sites on the east and west corners of nearby Riverside Drive West and Janette Avenue at a cost of $1.4 million.

"Now, we basically have control of this area," Farhi joked Wednesday.

Pointing to the recent move of St. Clair College into the downtown, and with the University of Windsor now about to follow, Farhi said Windsor is about "to come back to life ... it gives me great hope for the future of Windsor."

Farhi is rumoured to also be interested in the Windsor Riverside Inn (the former Radisson Hotel) that shares the Centre Mall's address on the city tax rolls.

"I cannot talk about it," he said Wednesday.

dschmidt@windsorstar.com or 519-255-5586

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