The $125-million Port Place features a 17-storey tower that will be home to luxury condo suites; boutique hotel; retail-commercial space; and 400-seat theatre. The location, with views across Lakeside Park, the harbour, lighthouses and Lake Ontario, is unrivalled in the Niagara Region. A total of 80 apartment-style condo suites are on offer, with 35 per cent already sold. Prices range from $430,000 to $3 million-plus. (Drawing courtesy Port Place)

$125-million Port Place condo/hotel/retail development
brings urban chic to Port Dalhousie's heritage waterfront

Port Dalhousie is about to go upscale.  

The Lake Ontario village, officially part of the City of St. Catharines, is undergoing a metamorphosis that will breathe new life into a prime chunk of waterfront real estate on the edge of a beloved, but tired, commercial heritage district.  

Known as Port Place, the multimillion-dollar development features a 17-storey tower that will be home to luxury condominium suites; boutique hotel; retail/commercial space; and live theatre. The location, adjacent to the historic municipal Lakeside Park overlooking iconic lighthouses and the waters where Port Dalhousie got its start almost two centuries ago — where the old Welland Canal meets Lake Ontario — is unrivalled in the Niagara Region.  

And the water and sunset views if you’re lucky enough to call Port Place home?  

“Wonderful,” says Aggie Tarnoy, director of sales and marketing. “We’re lakefront, with the park and beach in front of us, so no one will ever be building there — the views will be forever. All suites have balconies and there are fantastic views from all floors. It’s really a great location.”  

Port Dalhousie’s sheltered harbour, with its two-kilometre walkway and public docks, has long been a place for sightseers, anglers and boaters, with the waterfront perhaps most famous today as the permanent home to the annual Royal Canadian Henley Regatta held each August.  

Against this stunning natural backdrop is Port Place, where there are 80 apartment-style residential suites on offer, with 66 located in the highrise tower (the condo units will sit atop commercial space and begin on the fourth floor) and 14 others to be located on the second and third floors adjacent to the tower.  

“The suites beside the tower will have beautiful views of the harbour and into the park,” Tarnoy tells MyNewWaterfrontHome.com, adding they are designed for “people who don’t like heights.”  These suites will be released for sale in about two weeks, along with the price list.  

So far, about 35 per cent of the tower units have been sold. Floor plans have changed, Tarnoy says. Seems people want more, not less, so there are now more two-bedrooms and fewer one-bedrooms.  

'Hidden jewels of the Niagara Region'

A one-bedroom, 1.5-bath, 715-square-foot suite on an upper floor is for sale at $430,000, complete with spectacular views. Two-bedroom, two-bath suites start at $540,000 for 940 square feet of space on the lower level (fourth floor). There are two sizes to choose from in the two-bedroom, two-bath plus den models, with the 1,355-square-foot suite starting at $820,000, and the 1,770-square-foot condo priced at $999,000, with prices rising depending on the floor you choose.  

Need more space?  There’s 12,000 square feet of penthouse space set aside, which can be sold as one huge residence or custom-sized. For example, if you only need 3,000 square feet or so, Tarnoy says the price tag will be about $3 million.  

With a swimming pool and fifth-floor roof terrace for entertaining beyond your own private balcony, and a marina at your doorstep to park your boat, Port Place aims to create luxury resort living in a historic village that once swelled with half a million visitors each summer.  

So far, mostly locals and expatriates have been buying up Port Place’s condo suites. According to Tarnoy, except for the rowers and the boaters, not that many people outside the region have heard of Port Dalhousie. “It’s one of the hidden jewels of the Niagara Region,” she tells MyNewWaterfrontHome.com.  

It wasn’t always that way.  

Set on the north shore of the Niagara Peninsula, Port Dalhousie is all about the water. It was created because of the first Welland Canal, built between 1824 and 1829, and continued as the northernmost stop along the route — the spot where ships slipped to and from Lake Ontario — until the current Welland Ship Canal was opened in 1932.  

In those early years, Port Dalhousie evolved quickly from an isolated, rural farm community into a shipbuilding and commercial powerhouse. Its history paralleled the development of the canal. Shipbuilding and dry docks were established. Shipbuilders, sailors and teamsters who helped to service the vessels took up residence. It was said that when the harbour was filled, there were so many ships that sailors could walk from deck to deck right across its width.

Waterfront home to historic carousel

At the turn of the 20th century, the Canadian National Railway and the Canadian National Steamship Company teamed up to open a ferry service from Toronto to Port Dalhousie and established Lakeside Park where the canal entered Lake Ontario. Thousands of vacationers began to make the crossing on the ship, The Dalhousie City.  

The park’s popularity increased during two world wars, when gasoline rationing curtailed travel by personal automobile. Picnic tables were added, bathing houses were built and an amusement park was constructed. All the kids had to try the giant water slide that was placed in the lake.  

The beach had started to become a popular summer destination in the late 19th century, and cottages were built on the bluff overlooking the lake. But with the addition of new park facilities and the introduction of Torontonians, some years saw as many as 250,000 people visit Lakeside Park.  

The ships were discontinued in 1949 and, soon after, the streetcar from St. Catharines was stopped. Nevertheless, many people continued to visit by automobile and a restaurant on site was said to serve the best seafood in the region. A dance hall was a popular spot for young couples to meet on a Saturday night.  

Today, the park is still there, and so is the old merry-go-round — a vintage carousel carved by Charles I.D. Looff in 1905 and brought to Port in 1921. It still works and rides are just a nickel.  

The waterfront continues to attract visitors — there are two marinas, two long piers and two old lighthouses that act as bookends to the easternmost pier and attract strollers, anglers, bicyclers and camera buffs alike. And daytrippers in the region still come to shop and eat in the heritage district, whose bars are popular with young revellers on summer weekends. But with several waterfront area properties bought up over the years for future development, including Port Place, the heritage core has been in a state of limbo for about a decade now, looking more shabby than chic.  

“It’s in transition and looking a little barren,” says Tarnoy of recent demolition. “That’s what happens when you’re getting ready to build something spectacular.”

Mixing the old with the new

The Port Place project aims to infuse some much-needed new energy into the waterfront area and extend Port Dalhousie’s season beyond the summer with its 103-room boutique hotel, 400-seat theatre and upscale shops and restaurants, part of the project’s 25,000 square feet of retail-commercial space. As Port Place’s marketing materials boast: “If it looks, tastes or sounds fabulous, you’ll find it here.”  

The ambitious $125-million development — Tarnoy says a hotel operator should be chosen by the end of 2012 and major retail tenants signed up after that to anchor the bottom floor — is led by Port Dalhousie Vitalization Corp., known simply as PDVC. Under its original principals, the company envisioned “a lively environment in which people will want to live, work, and play.” PDVC brought its vision all the way to the Ontario Municipal Board where it won the fight, then prepared plans for construction before calling in help. It was bought out in 2011 by Derek Martin of Landform Canada Construction.  

The sleek and modern Port Place will stand in stark contrast to the low-rise, mostly brick, commercial buildings around it. But plans are in place to meld the old with the new, and efforts to save the past are part of the demolition work currently underway to clear the site for construction.  

In its mid-1800s beginnings, Port Dalhousie gained a reputation as a rough-and-tumble seafaring centre, with plenty of pubs and entertainment spots along the harbour. It was no coincidence that the village lockup was constructed next to the harbour. Today, it is preserved as Ontario’s smallest jailhouse, and this building is among the heritage structures that are being removed with special care.  

The 1845 jail will be dismantled and moved temporarily to Lakeside Park, then moved back to the Port Place site once the underground parking structure is completed. The facades of two other heritage buildings, the former Austin Hotel and the Port Mansion, a former restaurant/dinner theatre, will be saved and incorporated into the development.  

“There is a lot of heritage work, a lot of refinement, to do,” Tarnoy says. “If it was just a matter of tearing everything down, it could be done in two weeks. But the heritage work will take several months. When that’s finished, we’ll start construction, probably in mid to late winter.”  

If everything goes according to plan, the first residents will be moving in to their condo suites in time for Christmas 2014. The upper floors are expected to be ready for occupancy by the end of 2015.  

You can check out Port Place — and the stunning views — for yourself with a visit to the presentation centre, a fully furnished and decorated two-bedroom model suite located at 1 Hogan’s Alley. For more information, go online at  www.portplace.ca, or call 905-937-5811.  

MyNewWaterfrontHome.com — October 2012