A Windsor property developer has said a legal dispute should not have prevented his company from bidding on the closed J.L. Forster High School building in the city’s west end.
The Greater Essex County District School Board sold the property Dec. 22 to Progressive Waste Solutions Inc. for a reported $1.2 million. Progressive then sold the property to the Canadian Transit Company, a part of the Ambassador Bridge Company, for the same price the same day.
A Thursday news release from Scott Scantlebury, the board’s public relations officer, stated the property wasn’t put on the open market because “a matter of dispute with the owner of an adjoining property was identified.”
Other “designated government and quasi-government agencies” were given priority to buy the land before Progressive was considered as a buyer, according to the release.
Joseph Mikhail, who wished to bid on the land, said this doesn’t explain why others couldn’t present an offer.
“All I’ve got to do is sue somebody and that prevents them from putting something on the open market? I don’t think so,” said the owner of Mikhail Holdings.
Representatives from the CTC have said they intend to open up space in the Forster building to community groups. The sports field is meant for part of a new bridge plaza should the Ambassador Bridge expansion project earn approval from the Canadian and U.S. governments.
Mikhail said he would have turned one side of the building into low-income housing and the other into commercial space.
“The west end needs to be seeded with residents,” he said. “Without residents, you can’t build commercial. Without commercial, you can’t build businesses out there.”
The release from the school board said a third-party was brought in to determine the property’s fair market value. The sale to Progressive “was the best possible solution available and demonstrates the GECDSB’s commitment to prudently manage its assets,” according to the release.
Still, Mikhail said “$1.2 (million) is a very nominal figure for the amount of land that was exchanged.”
The bridge company is currently in a legal matter with the City of Windsor over boarded up homes it owns on Indian Road. That area is intended to hold the proposed twin span of the Ambassador Bridge.
Ward 2 Coun. John Elliott said he’s optimistic about Forster being used to host community agencies, but he will keep his eye on the plans with the property.
“When a lot of the houses were boarded up we lost a lot in our community, in terms of people, but if this initiative goes well it’s going to bring people back into the community,” he said.
Elliott himself works as the executive director of the non-profit Sandwich Teen Action Group, which is located in a former school building.
The west end is showing other good signs, Elliott said, including a coffee shop set to open in the former Sandwich Post Office and a library scheduled to occupy an old fire hall.
However, he said because the final decision on the bridge expansion still hasn’t been made it’s difficult to make long-term plans for the part of Windsor west of the Ambassador Bridge.
The CTC purchased another Felix Avenue property from Progressive Waste, which officials say will be used for maintenance equipment storage. Elliott said because the building is currently boarded up, the CTC’s use of it is probably a good thing.