Mark Clairmont |

GRAVENHURST — Three big new commercial and housing projects here show that while small businesses struggle, life goes on for big business.

A third pot shop will open in the old LCBO store, the former Home Hardware store plaza has been sold for $4.35 million that will see an “exciting” new retail development.

And Muskoka Bay Resort is expanding its condo and housing up the hill to the end of John Street South, beside the dog park.

They’re just a few of the business developments Mayor Paul Kelly has been boasting about at recent  Probus and Rotary club meetings, as he offered updates on how the town is trying to cope with coming out of COVID.

Then there’s a new Surf & Turf shop opening on Bay Street.

As well, a gym on Sharpe Street next to the former liquor store in the old IGA is finally opening shortly after months of delay.

A third private pot shop is opening in the premises of what were previously another provincially-controlled substance – the old local liquor barn on Sharpe Street East. It’s next to a gym also opening in the former IGA.

And an apartment complex next to Canadian Tire is due to break ground any day.

Dozens more houses are going up at two sites off the Beach Road.

But don’t count on housing at the old Muskoka Regional Centre, which the Gravenhurst opposes.

The town’s position is that the property should be sold by the province to create long-term employment, rather than short-term construction jobs.

But that’s up to the province, which recently closed bids on the 70-acre peninsula property at the north end of the main street on Muskoka Lake.

An announcement on a sale is expected this summer.

A Muskoka municipal committee of six is working on the province to help facilitate that. Gravenhurst reps include the mayor, its CAO Glen Davies and Scott Lucas community growth and development director. From the district is chair John Klinck, CAO Julie Stevens and Samantha Hastings, commissioner of community and planning.

MPP Norman Miller sits in on meetings.

The Ontario Fire College closed last month and could be on the block as part of a 160-acre joint sale involving the former Muskoka Centre. See its history in a YouTube video presentation this week by archivist Judy Humphries and the Gravenhurst Library. See the link below.

Kelly said he had lot of calls from developers about the Muskoka Centre, but none about the recently available Ontario Fire College (OFC) the province closed last month leaving 35 people unemployed.

The property and its office, residential and firefighting buildings are empty. The last fire truck left town a month ago.

It’s 90 acres and would be turn-key operation, unlike its derelict neighbour next door.

Could the two be sold together? That’s for the government to decide.

A parcel of 150 acres on Lake Muskoka in the right hands would be a win-win for the town and Ontario.

See a great and timely YouTube video presentation on the OFC by town archivist Judy Humphries from this week at the Gravenhurst Library here.

Downtown it’s business as usual with the usual openings and closings of a few shops.

Earl Zimmerman’s old Bay Street Barbershop has seen a lot of business comings and goings since the 1980s. The latest is a Surf & Turf – Fresh Fish and Seafood storefront appropriately on Bay Street.

One prime corner lot back on the market belonged to Dap Thach, who died suddenly this spring.

It’s next to the Opera House (which has undergone more renovations) and would be prime pickings for the town if it wanted to consolidate its cultural efforts around the forgotten Heritage Square.

Toss in Rombos across the street (I’m sure they probably wouldn’t mind) and the intersection of Muskoka Road and Sharpe Street could become a key focal point to rally the downtown around.

The town missed a similar boat a decade ago when it could have bought the Albion building and the drug store across the street that burned.

Now that would have sparked a really great downtown renewal and given the town a foothold on the prime corner for when Canada Post one day locks its last lock box.

A true phoenix rising from the ashes of two other fires that blemished the same block.

That’s something for a new CAO to help ponder as the town commences hiring interviews this week to replace Davies this fall as Muskoka’s highest-paid civil servant at $213,000 a year.

Also at the town hall, Kelly says the unfinished second floor of the adjacent Cottage Family Health Team building — which is owned by the province — would be a sensible location for future wellness and mental health office space.

But the province has shown no interest in further developing the decade-old site.

Perhaps a new MPP next year might be able to help.

The Miss Jones Gravenhurst Outpost is the latest cannabis business opening in town with two more reported in the offing.


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