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Massive mixed-use development slated for Kitchener

Patricia Williams
Massive mixed-use development slated for Kitchener
A mixed-use development on a 5.1 acre site in downtown Kitchener, Ont. could include three condo towers and one rental apartment tower in addition to retail and office space. Seen above is a preliminary concept developed by Humphreys & Partners Architects. -

Zehr Group is looking to break ground in early 2018 on a massive mixed-use development in downtown Kitchener, Ont. after acquiring the historic two-acre Ratz-Bechtel property.

"We’re very excited about the potential for this entire site," says Zehr Group CEO Don Zehr. "It will play a key role in the ongoing transformation of Kitchener’s downtown core."

The 5.1 acre site on King Street West is located near the city’s light rail transit line, the Region of Waterloo’s future multi-modal transit hub and the Breithaupt Block where Google and other tech companies are based.

"We hope to go live on the project in the first quarter of 2018," Zehr said.

Prior to the acquisition of the Ratz-Bechtel property at 621 King St. W., Kitchener-based Zehr Group had begun planning for the redevelopment of three acres it already owned at 607 King St. W.

"The acquisition of the Ratz-Bechtel property was important to us," Zehr said. "We (previously) had a very irregularly shaped piece of property."

That deal closed late last year.

While the vision for redevelopment of the site is currently "a work in progress," Zehr said the mixed-use development could encompass between one million square feet and 1.2 million square feet. "The breakdown will probably be in the neighbourhood of 80 per cent residential, the majority of that being condos, with the remainder being 10 per cent retail and 10 per cent office space."

The residential component could include three condo towers and one rental apartment building.

The redevelopment is being undertaken by a team that includes Humphreys & Partners Architects, a Texas-based firm with an office in Toronto. It won a Zehr Group-sponsored design competition.

"The mandate was ‘wow us,’" Zehr said.

Zehr Group received five responses to a request for proposals. While all were "impressive" Zehr said the development company was particularly struck by the vision presented by Humphreys & Partners.

"They have been involved in some pretty interesting projects in the United States and elsewhere both in the residential and mixed-use development spheres," Zehr said.

The architecture firm is collaborating on the project with Waterloo, Ont.-based ABA Architects Inc.

Planners are GSP Group which has an office in Kitchener.

Zehr Group has been working closely with the city formulating plans for the redevelopment.

It retained industry veteran Roger Farwell of Kitchener’s WalterFedy "to help us navigate through the initial stages of the project.

"We are working with Roger on a month-to-month basis to step us through the process," Zehr said. "He is a highly experienced individual."

Once construction ultimately gets underway, the project will be built by the group’s construction arm Zehr Levesque. It won two Building Excellence Awards this year from the Grand Valley Construction Association.

Local trades will also be retained.

While plans for the overall development have not been finalized, the historic Ratz-Bechtel funeral home will be incorporated in the project in some manner.

"Exactly how that will be done is still to be determined," Zehr said.

The 118-year-old building is listed on the city’s heritage registry, which means that some of its 19th century character will be preserved.

The Victorian-style mansion was first constructed as a private home for Kitchener businessman Jacob Kaufman.

"While some newer buildings on the Ratz-Bechtel property will be demolished, the original house will remain," Zehr said. "The home itself is in lovely shape."

In advance of a construction start, a strip plaza and a two-storey building on the property at 607 King St. W. will be demolished as well.

Zehr said the project will be developed in stages.

"We are thinking potentially of building two condo towers and probably half the retail in phase one," he said.

Underground parking will be provided as well.

Over the last several months, various consultants have been involved in the planning, "making sure that we didn’t get ahead of ourselves on the design side," said Zehr.

Given that the site is adjacent to a rail line, vibration studies had to be conducted.

Zehr said the overall goal of the project is to create "a very people friendly" environment on what is now a premier downtown development site.

"It has been a long journey to get to where we are today," he said. "We’ve gone from when downtown Kitchener was full of vibrancy to a time when it kind of flattened out. Now it is back again. We are very excited to own property in the core."

In addition to working with clients, Zehr Group has redeveloped numerous properties on its own and in conjunction with joint venture partners.

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