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May. 27, 2022 | Friday
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Rand Estate on market for cool $19 million, developer says town didn't respond to new plans for hotel
Richard Harley photo

The controversial Rand Estate is for sale again.

Developer Benny Marotta has listed two properties of the estate — 144 and 176 John St. — for $19 million, after years of tension between his companies, the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake and Save Our Rand Estate (SORE), a group of residents opposed his plans for a hotel on the property.

The property has multiple international listings, Marotta said in an interview.

The other property of the back half of the estate, 588 Charlotte St., where Marotta plans to build a subdivision, is not for sale.

The combined properties are owned by Two Sisters Resorts Corp and Solmar 2 Niagara Inc.

Marotta has also withdrawn his appeal of the town's heritage designation bylaws to the Conservation Review Board for the two properties, as well as his appeals to Local Planning Appeals Tribunal for his hotel/convention centre.

The future of the property, which is currently in a state of disrepair, is now uncertain. 

Marotta bought the property in February 2017 for $7.25 million, real estate records show. Artist Trisha Romance had bought the estate in July 2006 for $5.025 million, the records indicate.

When news emerged late last week that the property is on the market, many NOTL residents took to Facebook to voice their thoughts on its possible sale, with some blaming SORE for opposing the development and saying they hope the group will "put its money where its mouth is."

"Well, if it's soooo important to the SORE people they should buy it and 'do what is right for it' as they are the experts on everything the Old Town 'should be,'" said Facebook user with the handle Linc Canuck.

"Don’t know what you want to happen to this place but now for sure nothing will. Well done," said Chris Robinson.

"Perfect opportunity for SORE ... Let's see whatcha got ... I have every faith in you that you aren't just pains in the arse and you'll do the right thing by buying the property," said Cory Abt.

SORE spokesperson Lyle Hall said the group is "skeptical that Mr. Marotta is in fact serious about selling" the estate, given that the property is listed for $11 million more than what was paid for it.

Marotta said he bought the properties for about $8 million, after factoring in land transfer taxes, HST and legal fees. He said in total, with maintenance of the property, architects, planners, consultants and lawyers the property has cost him "well over $13 million."

"The attempted sale appears to be a clumsy scheme by Mr. Marotta to make the town and its residents appear to be the bad guys, when it was Mr. Marotta that proposed a grotesque hotel and convention centre on the Rand Estate where a much smaller and more appropriate project had been proposed by Trisha Romance," Hall said in an emailed statement to The Lake Report.

"The Romance project was narrowly approved by council in 2011 and was the result of a compromise between residents and Romance. The ability to compromise does not appear to be in Mr. Marotta’s DNA," Hall said.

SORE is not against "responsible development of the Rand Estate," but does oppose cutting down the protected Dunnington-Grubb designed landscape, the six-storey hotel and convention centre Marotta proposed for the site, and a subdivision planned for the other two estate properties, he said.

The Romance proposal was approved for a three-storey hotel.

"Mr. Marotta knew full well what was approved on the Rand Estate at the time he bought it — if that wasn't good enough for him he shouldn't now be blaming the town and its residents for vigorously responding to all the legal challenges he has thrown at us," Hall said.

Hall suspects SORE has "not seen the last of Mr. Marotta's convention centre and hotel proposal."

"Ultimately, we are trying to figure out what his game is. He is clearly still trying to pursue his high-density subdivision plan for the back half of the Rand Estate. As a result, we’re not persuaded that his listing of 144/176 John St. is sincere."

Marotta said in a media statement Monday that the sale is a result of the town not responding to site plan applications and to continued opposition by SORE and town council.

"Any other municipality would have welcomed us with open arms," he said.

"Arriving at this decision was very difficult, but it is apparent that there is no path to amicable discussion with either the town or SORE," Marotta said.

"Our intention was always to preserve the integrity of this heritage property and enhance its already robust landscape for guests and the community to enjoy, while creating a beautiful establishment that would elevate hospitality in Niagara-on-the-Lake."

"It is tragic that the town does not seem to understand that municipalities must protect the interests of all taxpayers and citizens and has to attract investment in order to maintain fiscal stability and provide employment. The end of the Two Sisters proposal is a loss of over $50 million to the town’s economy."