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Pearle Hospitality CEO discusses 'iconic' Cambridge Mill proposal

'It's very similar to what you see in other cities, where you're not trying to recreate the old but creating structures using high-quality materials'

Aaron Ciancone feels the Cambridge Mill Development is exactly what downtown Cambridge needs to increase the work, live, play combination in one of the city's core areas.

The president of Pearle Hospitality, which owns the Cambridge Mill, as well as other landmarks in southwestern Ontario, spoke to CambridgeToday about the development, which proposes a 28-storey hotel and a 37-storey condo building on Water Street North.  

"We're looking to keep extending our hospitality," said Ciancone. "We want to bring more hospitality features within the hotel, it'll be similar to what we're building in Burlington currently. It'll be an extension of our hospitality and connecting with the mill that's been there for 10 years. We want to continue to grow with the downtown."

He said all concerns presented by residents in Waterscape on the Grand River, which is made up of two neighbouring 12-storey condo buildings, were addressed during a public information session.

"I was a bit surprised by your article, because we've had letters of approval from several associations in the area, including Waterscape, saying they're so excited about it," Ciancone said. 

Then he answered some of the concerns anew.

"When we were approved in 2015, we were asked by council to re-look at the architecture of the building and we did just that," Ciancone said, talking about the two tall, modern-looking towers that are being proposed. "Subsequently, we came up with what we believe is a beautiful structure. It's very similar to what you see in other cities, where you're not trying to recreate the old but creating structures using high-quality materials. It would be very iconic for Cambridge." 

Talking about how the proposed design would affect the downtown heritage look, he said the property lies on the bookends of the downtown and is outside the heritage stretch.

"If you look at other cities around the world ... we're taking that same approach, which has been very successful: not trying to copy the old but doing something that the city and the public can be proud of," Ciancone said. "We think we're accomplishing that."

The change from the old rendering of one solid mass building to the slimmer towers, he said, would not impact the Waterscape residents' views of the river. 

"Architecturally, we felt it was more suited and would give better sight lines to the river and to the downtown. You can see through the buildings, instead of being completely blocked off."

Further, Ciancone said, the view isn't impeded since the buildings are set closer to the street, where the old rendering had the development close to the river.

This, he said, also allows to create better access to the trail system and enhance river access. 

"Decades ago when the berm went up, the city turned it's back to the river, so we want to break that trend and face the river," Ciancone said. 

Being behind the berm, the structure does not affect any wildlife. 

"We're talking about redeveloping an existing parking lot. It's within the limits of our property," he noted. 

Another concern shared by the residents of Waterscape was around the increase in traffic coming in to downtown Cambridge. 

"We're working with the region to improve Water Street," Ciancone said. "It'll be two-way traffic and they'll have easier access to their condos and we're enhancing the streetscape at the same time. Making it a two-way, the region and us, we believe it's going to slow down traffic."

He said he and his team is very excited by the project.

"We're providing jobs, a place for people to live and play, all in one site," Ciancone said, adding, "The list goes on from redeveloping a brownfield to getting parkland to the trail system to tourism. It's going to be a huge catalyst for the downtown."

As for how much time it will take before this project is finished, he said, he couldn't yet give a completion date.  

"We're at the zoning stage," Ciancone said. "We'll put together a more detailed schedule once we have all our approvals in page. It's hard to estimate, but when we do start, we'd be looking at a two to three-year construction period."