Waterfront Development: And the Winner Is…

In today’s third and final installment of our waterfront development series, we’ll look at the winning proposal submitted by Bedford-based Doucet Developments, founded by Westmount native Doug Doucet.

Council selected Doucet’s proposal during in camera meetings and the first the public heard about it was during the 8 November 2022 council meeting when Doucet himself presented his plan. His presentation included a timeline that, as I noted back on January 18, is already behind schedule—he’d expected to have his memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the CBRM locked down by November 25, but it wasn’t actually approved until January 17, and that seems to have had a cascading effect on the rest of the “master schedule.”

There is a “Landing Page” for the development on the company’s website but it’s just a bunch of artist’s renderings of the project and a block of text pulled from a press release (cryptically headlined “Doucet Developments x CBRM“) found elsewhere on the website:

On Tuesday, November 8th at the CBRM Regional Council and Committee meeting, Doucet Developments was named the successful proponent for the Sydney Waterfront Development project.

The details of this project are still being ironed out by both sides and will involve a series of community outreach to get public opinion on how they would like to see some of this space developed and used. The proposed direction has this massive project being broken out into three phases that will include the construction of multiple mix-use developments along with underground parking amongst other potential additions.

The pedant in me, never far from the surface, wants to red ink that text, but once I started I’d never stop. In contrast to the SHIP.ED proposal, which we considered a couple of weeks ago and which read like it was computer generated, the Doucet Developments proposal reads like it was written by a person, just not a person who can write.

The “series of community outreach” was to have begun on April 7 and run until June 29, but I guess it can’t happen until “details of the project’ are “ironed out.”

 

The Gray Group

During that November meeting, Doucet kicked off his presentation by introducing his CFO, Chris Baldwin, who did much of the talking, and noting that his vice present of real estate Dave Wallace was in the gallery as was Trevor MacLeod, president of The Gray Group from PEI, an “invested partner in the project.”

I didn’t pick up on this element in my coverage at the time (mea culpa) but Doucet clearly states that The Gray Group was “building a small town” in Stratford, PEI.

The Gray Group is not mentioned in the proposal.

The Grays are the PEI family that founded the eyewear chain Vogue Optical, which Wayne Gray and his son Corey sold to New Look Eyewear for $74 million in 2013. The family retained The Gray Group, a property development company with about 50 pieces of property throughout Atlantic Canada (30 of which were Vogue Optical stores they were to continue renting to New Look). Corey Gray serves as the group’s CEO.

The Gray Group, I have to say, is a strange entity that also encompasses Island Drafting (an architectural drafting company), H-Line Enterprises (a “powerline maintenance” company), KOA Cornwall/Charlottetown (a campground), Vision Auto and Tire (an automotive repair shop in Charlottetown), Cantrek Tire and Supply (a wholesale tire distributor) and the Fox Meadow Golf Course.

In the fall of 2021, The Gray Group announced plans for a 40-acre, $1 billion development in Stratford, PEI called “The Crossroads.” According to the CBC, the project:

…would build an estimated 2,635 units which will be a mix of residential, townhouses and multi-unit buildings as well as new commercial and light industrial space.

The current plan is for the project to be completed over the next 15 to 20 years.

“We’re in the early concept stages but this is a starting point and we’re excited to share it,” Gray Group CEO Cory Gray was quoted as saying in a written statement.

An artist's rendering of a housing development.

In April, the Stratford town council made changes to its by-laws to accommodate the development by creating two new zone classifications—the Core Mixed Use zone and the Urban Core zone, the latter allowing buildings up to 12-stories.

So you’d think The Gray Group would have its hands full, what with building what is now being billed as a 3,200-unit housing development in Stratford, but apparently, it still has time to help Doucet Developments with our waterfront.

In fact, it looks like Doucet cribbed some of the text for its proposal from The Gray Group, I really don’t know how else to explain this reference on p. 56, under “Areas of Economic Benefit”:

Our assessment of municipal tax impacts is defined based on project expectations and assumptions concerning property taxation indices within Stratford [emphasis mine].

 

Fathom

Okay, so the Gray Group, which got mentioned during Doucet’s November presentation to council isn’t mentioned in the proposal, but on the flip side, Dartmouth-based Fathom Studio, (formerly Ekistics Plan + Design), which is listed as an “integral part” of  Doucet Developments’ team in the proposal, didn’t get a mention in the presentation (which I just went back and re-watched, for my sins).

Fathom was responsible for the 2014 Sydney Harbourfront Conceptual Vision & Design report and, in fact, the cover drawing on the Doucet proposal is lifted straight from that report (apologies for the quality):

The cover of a waterfront development proposal.

Here’s the picture from page 65 of the Fathom waterfront report:

Artist's rendition of buildings on a waterfront.

 

It’s a strange choice, given the drawing shows a section of the waterfront now occupied by the NSCC Sydney Waterfront Campus (“Mercer’s Landing” is a reference to the service station that once stood there) and has nothing to do with the project proposed by Doucet Developments, which involves the stretch of land between the cruise pavilion and the Holiday Inn.

The Doucet proposal devotes an entire “Design Team” section (p. 19-27) to Fathom Studio, introducing its personnel (like founder and director of planning Rob LeBlanc), explaining its design process and featuring past projects, including Fathom’s design for the “Sydney Urban Core” but not, oddly enough, its plan for the Sydney waterfront. The Charlottetown waterfront, yes; the Dartmouth waterfront, yes; the Halifax North Waterfront, yes; but not the 78-page Sydney waterfront plan, although in the “concept” section of the proposal, Doucet cites the plan by name.

Doucet, in his “President’s Statement,” touts the advantages of working with “a design team already immersed in creating a vision” for the waterfront but during his November 8 appearance before council, made no reference to Fathom Studio nor did any representative of the design firm participate in his presentation.

I emailed Fathom Studio to ask whether they remained involved in the project and Nadine Babineau responded:

We were the retained design firm hired by Doucet Developments for the Sydney Waterfront.

When I asked whether they remained the retained design firm, I received no response.

 

Group ATN

The proposal also dedicates a section (p. 30-36) to Group ATN Consulting or “GATN,” an “Atlantic-wide [surely not] consulting and applied research firm” registered in NS, NB, PEI and Newfoundland and Labrador.

What does GATN do? Why it does “economic development” and “economic impact analysis” and “economic strategy development.”

Principal and co-founder Thomas McGuire is an economist who will “share responsibility” with Rob LeBlanc of Fathom for “translating the spatial plan and concept design” of the waterfront project “in a way that will describe the socio-economic transactions the plan will support.” This will be “an iterative process underpinned with a clear picture of the current socio-economic climate.”

Stephen Coyle, VP of Research and Strategy, is a “strategic thinker with extensive evaluation and planning experience” who specializes in “the use of enquiry and research to present a compelling story about growth that leads to positive change.” He is “committed to delivering timely strategic support for long range and operational planning by drawing on a broad range of experience in management consulting and government.”

Okay, I’ll just admit it, I don’t what they do, and I only bring them up to say that Doucet didn’t mention them during his public presentation either.

 

Library

The Doucet proposal leaves the door open for a public library on the waterfront. In discussing Phase 3 of the development, for example, it says:

Anticipating the start of this phase being 5-12 years out allows some time to dream about the possibilities. The option of incorporating Conference Facilities, an Arts and Culture Centre, Library, UCB [sic] Satellite or some other significant community anchor is inherent with our plan.

(I mean, we all need time to dream but 12 years?)

However, while leaving the door open to a library or “community anchor,” the proposal also insists that such an “anchor” will not be necessary to the completion of the development:

We anticipate a 10 to 15-year buildout of this plan with the most significant last phase of the development timed such that it could accommodate a government anchor (such as a library) if there is demand, but if there is no demand, we can move forward with a full mixed-use development. (P.41)

The notion that we might just be getting around to breaking ground on a new central library 12 years from now with completion expected in 15 is just depressing, as is the thought that it might end up in premises rented from a private developer, which seems to be what Doucet is envisioning.

 

Anything you want…

There is no real, concrete plan here, which is something I picked up on during Baldwin’s presentation to council—he was non-committal about the number of buildings to be constructed, the order in which they’d be constructed and the heights they would reach. As he began explaining the phasing to council, he actually said “this is all subject to change” to “fit what works for us and the community.”

The “Closing Statement” of the proposal says:

The initial concept plan aims to bring the Sydney Waterfront to the main stage creating a wealth of things to do, places to see and energy at every corner. We see this plan as a starting point to begin the dialogue and to convey our initial ideas, but our process will be collaborative to ensure that other ideas from other local stakeholders will be incorporated into the eventual plan.

The shape shifts even more dramatically a couple of paragraphs later, in a discussion of Doucet Development’s planned “engagement process”:

During this time, brainstorming sessions might be utilized as a method of information gathering and an opportunity to validate new ideas and preconceptions as carry forward discussion points or issues requiring diplomacy. We will explore pre-proposed opportunities to further support growth in the areas of, [sic] Ocean Economy, Tech and Knowledge, Post-Secondary Education and Tourism. We will dive into opportunities surrounding manufacturing in support of aquaculture and bio-tech start-ups, options to further tap into the growing need for Tech and knowledge-based exports and synergistic relationships with educational institutions through creation of amenities and infrastructure.

Is it just me, or does that sound like it might apply more to The Gray Group’s “The Crossroads” development with its light industrial space?

Doucet Developments have:

…engaged experts who will help guide [them] through a dynamic socio-economic world climate and hone [sic] in on the inherent opportunities for this region.

And they are:

…excited about the prospect of igniting Sydney’s waterfront with this catalytic development.

(I really think this trend toward “igniting” everything needs to be stamped out.)

 

Redactions

For some reason, all of Doucet Developments’ references have been redacted.

 

As were select pieces of information on the last page of a section called “The Massing Study,” which outlines the phases of the development and consists chiefly of a bunch of artist’s renderings:

 

Quotable quotes

The proposal is studded with quotations, one of which is this:

I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.

It appears under a description of Doucet Developments’ West Royalty Suites in Charlottetown and is attributed to that renowned Indian property developer, Mother Teresa.

Here’s the full proposal, make of it what you will—I’ve had all I can take of it:

 

Doucet.Proposal