A s readers know from past columns, I'm fascinated by the transformation of Glendale Ave.
We're talking the stretch between Mountain and Merritt streets where paper mill giant Domtar once reigned supreme.
I may be guilty of having a selective memory, but the only other stretch of urban thoroughfare in St. Catharines that has changed more
dramatically in the past 30 years is Fourth Ave.
What makes Glendale more interesting, though, is its brownfield past.
The lands bordering Fourth Ave. were just another greenfield on the city's periphery waiting to be plowed under.
Glendale had a couple of notable industrial buildings that have been wonderfully restored and retrofitted for modern use.
I'll spare you any attempt at playing restaurant critic and simply note the interiors of both The Keg and Johnny Rocco's look terrific.
But then, given the crowded parking lots of each, there's a good chance you already know that.
All of which helps explain why, while driving along Glendale last week, my eyes were drawn to some construction activity taking place at the Lybster Mill building.
It appeared an addition was being built at the Johnny Rocco's end.
My interest was further piqued when I dropped into the building.
The wood railing of the lobby's grand staircase was being stained.
The Sherlock Holmes in me detected something was up.
The solution seemed elementary. I would talk to building owner and the man behind the Glendale transformation, Nino Donatelli.
Turns out the addition is a 280-seat banquet hall.
The hall will be run by Donatelli and catered by Johnny Rocco's.
It's all part of a grand, integrated plan that will
culminate with the development of the Stone Mill Boutique Hotel in the building, said Donatelli.
This is great news for city boosters who have been pining for a downtown boutique hotel. Mind you, they had downtown St. Catharines in mind as opposed to downtown Merritton. But why quibble?
While Donatelli has always talked about the possibility of an inn for the building, the immediate and ccess of Johnny Rocco's has confirmed the idea and accelerated its development.
Here's how the integrated concept works:
People can book a wedding reception at the banquet hall, stay at the boutique inn, have their nails and hair done at the Lybster Mill's spa and the next morning have breakfast at a planned bakery/deli/coffee shop in a 2,500-square-foot space at the north end of the building.
I understand it completely. Well, except for the hair and nails thing. Women, eh?
At any rate, it's hoped the banquet hall will be completed by October, which will be in time for Christmas party bookings.
After that, work will start on building 23 hotel rooms on the second floor.
"We can't stop now," said Donatelli, adding he hopes the rooms will be ready for occupancy next spring.
Another 23 rooms will eventually be built on the top floor, he said.
In the time since Donatelli bought the old rubber
processing mill (now The Keg) in 2001 and the Domtar buildings in 2004, he has put forward a number of various development scenarios for the properties.
Some didn't work out and others may have taken longer to reach fruition than anticipated. But overall, his track record for delivering what he's promised is pretty good.
In that spirit, I note another of his ideas.
Still intact on site is an underground parking garage used by Domtar. Donatelli said it's structurally sound enough to support a 10-storey addition to the boutique hotel.
He's only talking in terms of a five-storey addition. And that's presuming the hotel now on the drawing board is a success and "I live long enough" to oversee the next project, which he figures is 10 years away.
Meantime, though, there's a banquet hall to be built as part of the expanded Lybster Mill project.
Donatelli said stone was being dug up as we spoke for the exterior of the hall. What choice did he have for a place that will be called the Stone Mill Boutique Hotel?
"I don't want to blow my horn," said Donatelli, "but I want to do this so it looks spectacular in the end."