Former psychiatric hospital should hold appeal for developers
The process of finding a new owner for the former St. Thomas Psychiatric Hospital has taken another step forward and officials say prospective buyers are already showing interest.
The first order of business will be heritage designations for the property and some of its buildings.
History buff and St. Thomas council member Steve Peters says that, when it was constructed in the late-1930s, the psychiatric hospital served two purposes - to address mental health issues and provide jobs in the wake of the great depression.
“Mitch was a strong advocate for the development of a hospital."
'Mitch' is Mitchell Hepburn. Hepburn was a St. Thomas native and Liberal premier who spearheaded the hospital construction.
Now Central Elgin Mayor Sally Martyn is helping secure the property's future, while preserving its past.
Martyn has her own connection to the former hospital, "When I was in university, before I became a teacher, I worked here every summer teaching arts and crafts to the patients."
The province still owns the almost 650-acre property located in Central Elgin, just beyond the southern border of St. Thomas.
Before selling it off, the province urged the municipality to seek heritage designations. Now ten building facades, along with the lobby of main building, have been identified.
Martyn is confident those designations won't limit interest, “We know of at least one developer from London, that's working with us in Port Stanley right now, that is interested in property."
The other heritage designation request is an easement which would prohibit construction at the front of the property, ensuring the facades will continue to be seen from Sunset Drive.
Peters says that may be a concern for some developers, but feels there are many other selling points.
"It has water access. It has good utility access. So, it has a lot of good amenities that lend itself to redevelopment."
Martyn says all the buildings on the property are made of Queenston Limestone, considered very high-quality limestone blocks.
She says there would be an opportunity to sell off material from the many buildings at the back of the property that are eligible for demolition.
Peters points to many graphic reliefs of animals and birds carved in stone above many entrances. He says those images were carved by Emanuel Hahn, a well-respected German-Canadian artist.
Probably the most interesting feature is one almost no one will see.
There's a tunnel that still exists leading from the main building, under Sunset Drive, to the building that houses the Elgin County headquarters.
The county building was once the residence for nurse’s working in the hospital.