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There’s something for everybody at this 600-acre, $1 billion condo/resort as it gears up for its next phase of development
My first visit to Friday Harbour came in May 2012 when it was nothing more than some non-descript field on Lake Simcoe’s Big Bay Point.
I remember it quite vividly as the developers had taken a group of journalists into a wide-open field and had them look around, nothing at all distinguishable about it except for its view of the lake.
We were told then the dream was to build not only a place to live, but an all season condo/resort development complete with 18-hole championship golf course, a 1,000-slip boat marina, seven kilometres of walking paths.
My first thought was this is about as ambitious as any Ontario project can get — residential or recreational.
My second visit to Friday Harbour came this fall. Only now, the 600-acre, $1 billion waterfront resort has come to life and appears well on the way to delivering on all the great promises made eight years ago.
Indeed, 95 per cent of all the infrastructure work is done, says Jim De Gasperis, managing partner, and now comes the ‘less-complicated’ work of completing the resort’s residential and hotel units.
I’m led on a walking tour by Boaz Feiner of Geranium Homes, one of the project’s building partners, and this includes the golf course, the hiking trails and a ‘European-style’ pedestrian village complete with a boardwalk and an interesting mix of shop, boutiques and restaurants.
It’s pleasant enough and certainly leaves the feeling there is something for everyone — resident or visitor.
For De Gasperis, though it’s more than that, not just what you see, but what’s behind it and the massive effort it took to build it. Much of our conversation over lunch at the site’s Beach Club later in the day is about infrastructure — pumping stations, storm water management and natural filtration systems — De Gasperis has a tale to tell about each one.
The other major part of the story is the environment. A full one-third of the resort has been turned into a nature preserve — maintaining fish habitats, developing a method to reuse rain water runoff on the golf course, protecting the endangered butternut tree with new plantings.
The resort centrepiece is the 1,000-slip marina — built using a special type of wood called Brazilian IPE (also pronounced EPAY), that De Gasperis discovered while in Florida and known for withstanding tough environmental conditions, including Canadian winters. Again, in and of itself, there’s a story to be told.
The pricing structure too — ranging from $380,000 for a condo unit to $2 million for a townhouse — ensures all segments of the market are covered. The newest offering is High Point, a four-storey condo with more than 200 suites starting from the high $300,000s.
“This is not a private club or a gated community,” emphasizes Feimer.
So too, is the public welcome to come in and visit, whether eating in the restaurants or booking a round on the semi-private golf course called the Nest. In 2019, it hosted
10,000 rounds and this year that number jumped to more than 20,000.
The overall sense at Friday Harbour is that it is for buyers who are not so much traditional cottagers but urbanites who want a resort-type experience. De Gasperis is betting there are a
lot of people out there “just like me. They want the cottage lifestyle but without the work.”
“If we are going to build it, we are going to build it right,” says De Gasperis, and even if extra costs are involved, it’s worth the long-term investment.
Evidently, it’s all about paying attention to details — the landscaping, the lighting; the amenities. The common areas that I walked through are almost Disney World-like in their appeal in terms of the clearly marked signage, the cleanliness and the orderliness.
Of note, is the lighting, so important to the ambience of the place. Take, for example, the boardwalk and waterfront condos with its shops, galleries, bistros and cafes, it all suggests that for those who want, there is a night life.
Despite the massive upfront investment, developers are confident of the viability of the project. The proximity from Toronto, says De Gasperis, is “a game-changer, about 75 to 90 minutes compared to the two- or three- hour trek to Haliburton or the Muskokas.
A second big factor is the emergence of the “urban cottage lifestyle,” a lot of people are intimidated by boating and cottage life, “we just want to make it accessible to the average person,” he says.
A third selling point is the technology infrastructure, and the exploding “work from anywhere trend,” As a result, the resort is paying close attention to building in more high-speed Internet services.
Notes Feiner: “Covid has changed not only lifestyles but work habits, and people will want to come here not just for the recreational activities but to work and grab a coffee at the