A Gatineau real estate firm that previously submitted a bid to redevelop LeBreton Flats has unveiled plans to invest up to $1 billion over the next decade on a new hotel and thousands of residential units at the site of Cornwall’s main convention centre.
Devcore said last week it has finalized a deal to purchase the Nav Centre, a 630,000-square-foot conference, hotel and training facility overlooking the St. Lawrence River in Cornwall, from Nav Canada. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
Nav Canada will remain the primary tenant of the complex – which has been renamed the Dev Hotel and Conference Centre – as part of a lease-back agreement with Devcore. Earlier this year, Nav Canada – a privately owned, not-for-profit corporation that oversees Canada’s air traffic control system – said it was selling the 43-year-old facility after taking a closer look at its investments to “assess their viability and revenue potential.”
Devcore president Jean-Pierre Poulin told OBJ he sees massive untapped potential at the 75-acre Nav Centre site, which drew about 35,000 visitors annually before the pandemic.
"All the cool stuff that we wanted to do … on LeBreton, we’re going to do it here in Cornwall."
Poulin – whose company was part of a multi-partner bid in 2015 to redevelop a 55-acre parcel of land at LeBreton Flats – said his long-term plan for the property includes as many as 2,000 residential units, a new 150-room hotel and a botanical garden.
“All the cool stuff that we wanted to do … on LeBreton, we’re going to do it here in Cornwall,” he said.
Other tenants include the Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Control Operations. While the complex was once Nav Canada’s primary training facility, the agency decentralized its operations about 15 years ago and began focusing more on turning the building into a meeting and convention hub.
The facility currently includes a 535-room hotel and about 70,000 square feet of meeting space, making it one of the province’s largest convention centres with on-site guest accommodations. According to its website, the property also features amenities such as a gym, sauna and double gymnasium as well as outdoor tennis, volleyball, baseball and soccer facilities.
In addition to expanding the overall operation, Devcore plans to revamp the existing facilities. Poulin said the firm hopes to convert some hotel suites into student apartments and forge partnerships with post-secondary institutions such as St. Lawrence College and Ottawa’s La Cité that would see the colleges offer courses at the Dev Centre.
Devcore’s boss said he hopes to turn the site into “the smartest and most sustainable village in the world.”
To that end, the firm is looking at implementing new green-energy technology to heat and cool the buildings without burning fossil fuels, similar to that being used at Ottawa’s Zibi riverfront community.
For example, chilled water from the St. Lawrence would be run through pipes to cool the hotel, residential units and convention centre in the summer. In the winter, methanol from the city’s sewage plant would be used to heat the buildings – potentially generating hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual energy savings, Poulin said.
Meanwhile, Devcore plans to install a platform from proptech startup 1Valet that would allow hotel guests and residents of the housing development to access smart-home features such as booking amenities like fitness facilities on their smartphones or having food from the convention centre’s kitchen delivered via drones.
The facility is also under new management. Atlific Hotels, which currently oversees operations at 40 lodgings across the country, will now take on the same role at the Dev Centre, replacing Nav Canada and French hospitality company Sodexo as the facility’s manager.
Meanwhile, Kim Coe-Turner, who previously served as the complex’s general manager, has joined Devcore as the firm’s vice-president of business development and government relations.
Coe-Turner said the new management team is working closely with Cornwall Tourism to attract more meetings, conventions and events such as weddings to the site. She said she’s hoping to regain some of the momentum that stalled when the pandemic ground virtually all leisure and convention business to a halt.
“It was in a very exciting place pre-COVID, and we were starting to get our name on the map in Eastern Canada and across Canada,” Coe-Turner explained, adding she sees “significant” opportunities to ramp up the volume of visitors to the property.
Poulin, who met with Cornwall officials to pitch the plan on Friday, said he expects the entire project to take up to 10 years to complete. Devcore hopes to break ground on the first phase of the development – which would include the hotel, student housing and other elements such as a beach on the St. Lawrence – by the end of next year pending city hall’s approval.