Developers are collaborating to bring ‘lively’ Distillery Square to Walkerville


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Prominent local business leaders Mike Brkovich and Rosati Group are partnering on an ambitious multi-application development that is expected to transform Walkerville’s commercial core into the Distillery District, as city politicians envision.

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The Distillery Square project is centered around two massive 130-foot-tall red-brick “shelf” department stores – built in the 1940s to store Hiram Walker and Sons’ whiskey – which Brkovich bought 25 years ago.

The partnership has recently acquired several other properties in the Wyandotte Street East and Argyle Road area, including the former Walter D. Kelly Funeral Home on Wyandotte and Devonshire Road, a commercial building in Wyandotte and Argyle, the former Royal Canadian Legion Branch 12 in Argyle and Brant Street, and the Strathcona commercial / residential building on the north-west corner of Wyandotte and Devonshire, where renovations are underway and a tenant – the Twisted Apron restaurant – has already been signed.

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On the shelf storage space, the plan is to connect the two department stores with a new building, build another one and create a pedestrian space in the middle, according to Tony Rosati, who heads the local company along with his brother Nick. A small parking garage is also planned.

The uses will include loft-style apartments and flats, office and retail space, restaurants, a boutique hotel and space for street vendors and food trucks, he said.

“We’re looking at a lively atmosphere where people just want to come and enjoy an evening,” he said. He could not say how much the ambitious project will cost.

The Strathcona building on the corner of Wyandotte Street East and Devonshire Road, which is currently under renovation, is seen on Tuesday.
The Strathcona building on the corner of Wyandotte Street East and Devonshire Road, which is currently under renovation, is seen on Tuesday. Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

“We are still looking at the overall concept and adjusting it. We want more information to be released before the end of the year,” Rosati said, expressing hope that construction could also start by the end of the year.

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Rosati said it’s clear that Walkerville is a “hot” place – a place where people want to live and hang out. Just nine months ago MSN.com the site listed it as one of the coolest neighborhoods in North America.

“My brother and I have always had an interest in Walkerville, and the relationship with Mike (Brkovich), he obviously has a great earth component, and those buildings have a great historical aspect. We are big fans of history and preserving history and improving it. , we have.”

Asked what they plan for the large and prominent funeral home, Rosati said they are still working on concepts.

Brkovich owns about eight historic properties in Walkerville, which he largely bought during economic downturns when prices were low. The warehouses have been empty, but he has used the outdoor parking area for a car export business he owns.

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“I’ve been approached by a number of developers (over the years) to develop the properties, and I really decided when Tony and his brother Nick approached me to consider a partnership because they were in line with what I thought. should be there, “Brkovich said.

“It will be unique and it will have a lot of different components to it,” he added, including the boutique hotel, which he believes will attract tourists who are not interested in cookie-cutter national chains.

The housing units, he added, will appeal to people who want to live in Walkerville but who have been prevented by a shortage of newer housing. “I believe that with these escalating property values ​​in Windsor and Essex County, where the values ​​remained stagnant for years, a development like this can be a success now.”

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Brkovich owns Walkerville Brewery and the former Hiram Walker warehouse, where it is housed. That operation will continue and become a critical component of the overall development, he said. The project will also be woven into the Distillery District plan, which the city has developed with the help of consultants, with a track leading down to Riverside Drive and the riverbank.

The final Distillery District plan – which includes about 10 improvements from better connections to riverfront parkland and trails, to create an urban space – will soon go to the council, which has approved $ 5 million for district division.

Brkovich said he and Rosatis were thrilled when they saw the city concept. “We took the city management and expanded it.”

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A Distillery Square mural with the former bookshelves from the original Walkerville Distillery in the background will be displayed on Tuesday, January 11, 2022.
A Distillery Square mural with the former bookshelves from the original Walkerville Distillery in the background will be displayed on Tuesday, January 11, 2022. Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

Mayor Drew Dilkens said this is exactly the kind of project the city hoped the district strategy would unlock.

“I know Mike Brkovich. When he says he wants to do something, he’s completely behind it,” Dilkens said. “And the Rosatis have a great story with lots of wonderful developments.

“And two of those parties together I think will do great things in Walkerville.”

Department 4 gr. Chris Holt said retailers and restaurateurs are “incredibly excited” about where the district plan is starting to take the neighborhood.

For developers like Brkovich and Rosati to come in and see that the city is committed to a neighborhood and committed to spending some money in there and focusing on the actual public space, it should give them a lot of confidence to move forward with a mega – investment as they do, “he said.

“They are leveraging what the city plans to do with their own private investment, which is pretty much what we are looking to achieve here.”

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