City begins hard-selling of dirt-cheap industrial land

EDC directors argue the city’s $50,000-an-acre price for industrial land is too low

Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corp. is preparing to launch an aggressive marketing campaign for city-owned industrial land.

“Within two weeks, you will start seeing [Multiple Listing Service] listings for industrial land in Sault Ste. Marie owned by the city,” Rick Van Staveren, the city’s director of economic development, told a meeting of the EDC board on Wednesday.

“It has never happened in the past,” Van Staveren said.

“The only way you could find out if there was industrial land for sale in the Sault was you had to call me or one of my counterparts.”

“Now, this will actually be promoted and advertised.”

James Caicco from Century 21 Choice Realty Inc. was recently retained by the EDC to market the city’s industrial property, which sells for $50,000 an acre.

That’s twice the price the city charged until July of 2021.

Before that, the city had been selling industrial land at $25,000 an acre since 2004 and had never increased the price.

Flakeboard (now known as Arauco) built on Base Line in 2004.

EDC doubled the price in 2021 after checking prices charged by other northern Ontario cities, and recent industrial transactions here in the Sault.

At Wednesday’s EDC meeting, Sam Butkovich, owner and broker of record at RE/MAX Sault Ste. Marie Realty Inc., expressed concern that even $50,000 an acre seemed a very low price.

“We’re still not at market price. We recognize that,” Van Staveren said.

“We don’t want speculators. We know the land’s cheap. The last thing we want is someone to come in and buy all the industrial land and sit on it.”

“So there is a rider on it that you need to build a minimum 2,000-square-foot facility within one year,” said Van Staveren.

“You’re giving the property away at $50,000 an acre, full serviced,” commented board member Joe Bisceglia.

“I hope they scoop it up pretty quick and start building,” Bisceglia said, adding: “It’s not our property. It’s the city’s property.”

In any case, none of the city’s industrial land has sold over the past year, even at the $50,000 price.

In other business, EDC directors said Wednesday they’ve been trying to set up a meeting with Algoma Steel to restart the Port of Algoma project, but so far the steelmaker has been preoccupied with other concerns.

EDC also formalized its previously approved $250,000 donation to the downtown plaza project on Wednesday.

“As with most projects,” Van Staveren told his board, “I think they’re having a few supply chain issues here and there on some things.”

“Tea [completion] date is still the date, but is it possible it could move? Yes,” Van Staveren said.

“But I don’t have any new dates or anything to share.”

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