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As Royal Hotel progresses, its owner may also save Ross/McMullen House (Legion)

Royal-Hotel-back-June-2016As the stunning restoration to Picton’s grand Royal Hotel is well under way, its owner is examining the possibility of saving another historic home – the Ross/McMullen House, now known as Picton’s Royal Canadian Legion.

Greg Sorbara

Greg Sorbara

Greg Sorbara, giving an update Tuesday on his project to guests and members of the Picton Rotary Club, confessed he’s “a sucker for beautiful old buildings” and also admired out loud the reconstruction being conducted by Alex Fida on the Downes/Falconer house next to the Sobey’s Plaza.

“We have put in a conditional offer (on the Legion building), lasting another 45 or 50 days while we investigate what the options are,” said Sorbara. “We’re looking at a number of options, all of which would involve residential development – not just for heritage reasons, but for reasons of heritage and beauty.”

If a deal moves forward, Sobara said he would maintain the entire structure of the original mansion.

Royal Canadian Legion

Ross/McMullen House, now Royal Canadian Legion

The 151-year-old Ross/McMullen house has been home to the Picton Legion for 68 years. It was built as a private residence in 1864-65 by Lt. Col. Walter Ross, the first commander of the County’s first Regiment of Volunteers from 1863 – 1883. Ross served eight years as councillor and four as Mayor of Picton. He was elected as Prince Edward County’s representative to the Legislature of the Province of Canada in 1863, and to the Parliament of the Dominion of Canada in 1867, 1872, and 1873.
In 1878, Walter Ross and Co. was declared insolvent and trustees took over his stately Main Street home. In 1884, the property was bought by Mrs. George McMullen whose husband worked as an American Pacific Railway liaison in both Canada and the United States. McMullen returned to Picton and took over the Prince Edward Railway. The house glowed with hospitality in good times, and grew quiet when the McMullen fortunes ebbed, but at all times was a source of food and help for the needy through the care and concern of Ruth “Mother” McMullen.

Sorbara, former Ontario finance minister, purchased The Royal Hotel in 2013. He also owns a farm property at Northport.

“We are well on our way,” he said of the Royal Hotel’s reconstruction. “We are past the most delicate and tricky part of the construction. I must admit that some mornings I feared I would get a phone call saying ‘Bad news, Greg, all the walls fell down. But they didn’t. The demolition contractors did a fabulous job of securing those walls. They are very delicate indeed but they are standing now as straight as they have ever stood from the day they were put up 135 years ago.”

The next step is to pour concrete to support elevator shafts and related structures, then will be the erection of steel.

“The way I explain it to people is that we’re building a brand new hotel inside an historic exterior. If all goes well, we’ll have a roof on the building so that a lot of the interior work will be continued through the winter.”

Sorbara explained the full-service, 28-room boutique hotel will have a casual elegance that will entice people to come and stay – including bakery, cafe, a bar with fireplace, dining room seating about 120 guests and a library for hotel guests. He hopes completion will be in the fall of next year.

“What will be different from what the Royal ever was, and will make a great difference in the surrounding area, is the transformation of what I call the back yard, which will have a patio with additional food service and a marvellous garden.”

The mission is certainly a business one, that will attract tourists, but Sorbara said it is also, in a sense, “to give this County, and Picton, back its hotel. People have been waiting a long time for this.

“I think it’s going to be a real treat. People who have lived in this County for generations will be welcome as will people from a very large tourism region… We are investing in something that is a labour of love, re-creating and creating something that will be a magnificent magnet for the County.”

Sorbara spoke of the County emerging as a quiet retreat due to its sense of calmness, and deeply-rooted sense of community.

“Those of you who are here, some for generations, have an obligation to ensure that development is managed in a thoughtful and progressive way,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we stick to who we were here, because who we were here was often, people were not in a good place. I know as a former politician that Prince Edward County, 45 years ago, was the most depressed county in all of Ontario in terms of unemployment and welfare rolls, school drop-outs. Things were not good here. The change was gradual and positive and I think energetic and at the same time maintaining that mysterious and unknown element that makes it such a great place to live and work.”

Royal-Hotel-concept-1

 

The rear of the building in this elevation drawing by Giannone Petricone Assocs.

The rear of the building in this elevation drawing by Giannone Petricone Assocs.

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  1. ADJ says:

    Nuff said Marnie… BTW there was no one interested in buying the big church remember? Like I said some just like to get on here, see their name in print and kick about anything just to hammer a point. So,,I’m done commenting on this as it just feeds their habit. Change the topic!

  2. Dennis Fox says:

    To “AT THE MEETING” -you are joking- right? Anyone who is afraid to put their real name by what they write, can’t be taken seriously. Read the article – Sorbara might have been invited to give an update on the Royal, but he also made sure that he announced his conditional offer on The Legion. Anyone trying to pretend otherwise is foolish and needs to take up the hobby of reading.

    However, if nothing else, I hope that I have started people looking more seriously at how development is happening around this municipality – it leaves much to be desired. I’m finished with this topic for now. Until the next time – cheers!

  3. Marnie says:

    Just how would you have gone about preserving the Royal Hildegard? There was extensive water damage, the roof was gone and there was not much of the interior left to salvage. I suppose you could have preserved the mildew and mold. Would you prefer to have seen the Royal levelled? Without Mr. Sorbara no doubt this is what would have happened.

  4. Hildagard says:

    It’s amazing to recall all the kicking and screaming that took place when the former Pentecostal Church was demolished. Now looking at the demolition of the former Royal Hotel, the nay sayers are silent–not a peep! My how times have changed! The silence is deafening! So much for heritage preservation! What a joke!

  5. At the meeting says:

    Dennis! It was not an announcement! He was there to speak about the Royal Hotel only. It wouldn’t even have been mentioned if a Rotarian didn’t question him about the “rumour” of him looking at it – after his update speech was over. Give it up. You need a hobby.

  6. Dennis Fox says:

    Why would a developer make an announcement, at of all things a service club luncheon, about a property that he only has a conditional offer on? He is obviously aware that a good number of councilors are members of this service club and is possibly trying to influence their opinion BEFORE it has even come to the planning department. This is not good business practice and no reputable council nor developer deals with development in this manner. Ask yourself honestly, is this a good president to set? How many planning decisions have been made by our council that at some point doesn’t get screwed up – this is a good way for that to happen. All I am doing is asking – why do it this way outside of the process – when some councillors know before the others. It just seems so much like the “Old Boys” doing whatever the heck they like and to heck with everyone else! But I tell you what – if you are happy with things being dealt with in this manner, fine – but don’t complain later if things come off the rails – and history has shown us that it will!

  7. Chuck says:

    Please tell us how any policy or potential planning process has been contravened by an announcement of potential purchase. Lay it out, because all I see is above board and more than willing to share info that you rarely see from many.

  8. Dennis Fox says:

    Chuck – you obviously have no idea what the correct planning process is and you are too tied up with sale to see outside that limitation. BTW – a person asking “critical” questions is not a witch hunt – at least not to those with nothing to hide. You seem happy to allow council and developers to do what they want – I just happen to disagree. I wish the Legion well in their sale and let’s pray the rest will fall into line – but it will be no thanks to you.

  9. Chuck says:

    Thanks Dennis, for dropping the witch hunt before anything has even transpired. There is nothing wrong or irregular with someone publicly stating they have made a conditional offer. In fact I find it open and upfront and relieving any concerns for those that feel they have an interest. And the name is Chuck! No “Y” on the end.

  10. Dennis Fox says:

    Wrong Chucky – the sale of the building is Legion business – after that it becomes what should be part of a public process. If you had bothered to read my comments, you would know that this has been what’s been concerning me and why I commented on this article in the first place. If you think that the Legion’s interests are being served by the “potential” buyer making an announcement at another service club’s luncheon meeting – you better thin again. I know from experience it is not serving the public’s best interests. However, I am no longer going to carry on with this discussion between you and I – with all respect, I don’t think it is accomplishing much.

  11. Chuck says:

    That would be the Legions business not people who have nothing invested.

  12. Dennis Fox says:

    My comments have nothing to do with the sale of the building – I too wish the Legion every success in its sale and for a long future.

    My comments are about the future development and most importantly the process around it. It is important that the sale of the building and the the future development don’t get confused. If people really care as much about this building as they claim, then they too should care about what happens to it after it is sold. Up until now, no one has bought the building – so now is the time to make your concerns known – not after when it may be too late.

  13. Marnie says:

    Instead of complaining that Mr. Sorbara stepped out of line by announcing he had placed a conditional offer on the Legion Dennis you should be pleased that the future of this fine old building is likely to be in good hands. Legion members will have funds to seek a new, more affordable location and a landmark home will be adapted for new use if this deal proceeds. Correct procedure is important but why carry it to extremes? That’s part of what is wrong with the current system. There are petty rules for everything along with fees and permits that are just money grabs.

  14. Chuck says:

    Not really, just can’t buy into the constant negative. Happy Canada Day!!

  15. Hildagard says:

    Chuck–I think you are dreaming in technicolour!

  16. Fred Flinstone says:

    The new governance that will be enforced by the OMB upon the County since Council ignored the public desire will be welcoming. Equitable voting and representation is all we desire!

  17. Chuck says:

    Doesn’t work that way. You have to apply for approvals, rich or poor.

  18. Hildagard says:

    Dennis Fox–you are so correct in your thinking! Watch the County officials fall all over themselves approving anything the rich and outspoken want!

  19. Mark says:

    Good discussion. Personally I can’t wait until the upcoming OMB hearing returns equitable voting rights for the County. That’s the first step to cleaning up.

  20. ADJ says:

    omg Susan I didn’t think you used that word anymore!!Get that bar of soap! ha ha
    To Dennis regarding costs to the taxpayers…I guess you could compare the costs now or later regarding mainstreet re-build. And what’s the big deal about a public announcement of intentions by a businessman? It appears your just looking for a heated “discussion” Whatever turns your crank. In a few years or less I could see the old Royal being torn down and removed because of hazards, rats,squatters,pick one..Who was paying the taxes on it? anybody? ok then the county would be paying the demo.Similar story for the Legion.There comes a time when some projects can’t be saved on the taxpayers dime. Thank goodness for people like Mr. Sorbara.

  21. Chuck says:

    I know a conditional offer has been made because I am a member. I do agree with you on the firing of very dedicated good staff by incompetent Commissioners.

  22. Dennis Fox says:

    How do you know he put in a conditional offer – do you work for him? Regardless, this is not how proper planning and development is to take place – but obviously here in The County nothing runs by the rules. And we wonder why things go off the rails so often – from the sewage plant fiasco to the firing of staff – taxpayers continue to pay for council mistakes. Sorry Chuck, but good business practices should prevail, if you step back and look, this is a joke. Not looking for problems, just preparing myself and hopefully others to be ready for another screw up.

  23. Chuck says:

    He has every right to make a public announcement that he has made a conditional offer. Up front and forthcoming to reduce fears of the future of the building. Any zoning change will be through the same channels that everyone else goes through. I think you may be looking for problems where there are not any.

  24. Dennis Fox says:

    Chuck – I never said that I didn’t want new development or that I was unwilling to work with a developer – what I’m talking about is not seeing our municipality cow-tow to any of them and to keep business as business – which does not mean having “lame duck” announcements made at service club luncheon, before it even comes before staff or council. How Mickey Mouse is that? The developer is not the only one bringing money to the table – look at the millions the taxpayers are spending on Main St. now! We(municipality) have our own interests to protect too and to have a profit to make. All I’m saying is that there is a proper way of doing business and maintaining a respectful relationship – this is not the way to do it – and Sorbara knows it, why don’t we?

  25. Susan Rose says:

    Maybe we should all not be so fricking critical constantly!! I’m sure the vote by it’s members was a bit of a relief for them. They have been under such hard times and deserve to have a place to meet and not constantly have the worry what bills will get paid this month! As my late father in law told me’ history, heritage is wonderful but it doesn’t put food on the table or educate your kids’. I strongly believe in preservation, but am also a realist. Good luck to Branch 78 on moving forward and to the new owner!

  26. Chuck says:

    Understood. But if I was putting up a million dollars to purchase and many more to develop I think I would want to know the wind on the waters before I closed the deal! And I am certain nothing is being proposed that would be out of character with the present area. I tend to want to work with developers that want to work with the betterment of the Town and in this case preserve a cared for property.

  27. Dennis Fox says:

    Chuck – sorry but you misunderstood my message- better read it again. It has nothing to do with permits – it has everything to do with proper process and procedures. If you check the real estate pages in tonight’s paper – The Legion is still up for sale! So what was Sorbara doing making any announcement about it – he hasn’t even bought the place yet! The planning process is supposed to be a professional and clear process – done between staff and the developer first and then presented to council – not to be first introduced at a service club luncheon, where a developer can influence a few council cronies, before planning staff even see it. The planning of this community deserves our best practices, and I believe the process is greatly compromised by such actions.

  28. Chuck says:

    Wrong Dennis. He has to apply for the same permits as you and I. The announcement actually was a public courtesy.

  29. Dennis Fox says:

    With all respect to Mr. Sorbara, I have difficulty with the way he announces his intentions to develop. It should be done through the municipality and at a planning meeting – not at a Rotary Club luncheon – where too many councillors are members. How can clear objectivity and setting the stage for future negotiations with this developer occur, on behalf of the taxpayers? While I appreciate Sorbara’s interest in our community, let’s not forget he has a financial purpose too. Why do I feel he has already out maneuvered council? I hope that I am wrong.

  30. Chuck says:

    Thanks Susan. The Legion wants it’s home to go to a good place. The heat, hydro, insurance and of course the crippling water costs combined with just regular maintenance of a Grand Old Lady Home has taken it’s toll.

  31. Susan Rose says:

    Wow you just cant please some people! How do folks figure the Legion membership could continue supporting such a huge building?? The heat bill I’m sure would make your head spin! Give credit to the membership for working so hard to keep the doors open and supporting so many other causes in our community.

  32. Chris Keen says:

    Does anyone have any idea where the dozens and dozens of cars the Royal will attract – guests and staff – are going to park?

  33. Chuck says:

    So what would you have done, renovate over top of rotting, moulding timber? No disrespect to the Legion. It has become a white elephant that the dwindling membership cannot afford to continue to maintain. Understandable.

  34. Hildagard says:

    Yes it’s certainly a fair compromise to see a few walls left dangling in the wind. Keep up the good work!

  35. Hildagard says:

    I think by calling the Legion a “white elephant” is very disrespectful! You obviously seem to have issues with the Legion.

  36. Susan Rose says:

    Well put Gilles!

  37. Paul says:

    I’ll defer my opinion on the Royal until its completed and benefitting The County because A LOT can change…

  38. gilles says:

    Another heritage hero, Mr Sorbara has gone beyond the call of duty in safeguarding our built heritage by saving not only the facade but also the side walls of the Royal Hotel, and by maintaining its majestic and historic presence on Picton’s Main Street. As a one-time purist in heritage conservation I feel a fair compromise has been achieved by approval of the glass on the first storey, considering the tremendous expense incurred in retaining the remainder.
    It is also gratifying to learn of his plan to safeguard the historic Ross/McMullen House (the Royal Canadian Legion), and its conversion to residential. Carry on the good work!

  39. Chuck says:

    Well take Poppy purchases off your list as those are dedicated to the benefit of veterans not for general revenue, bills, maintenance etc.

  40. Hildagard says:

    I am not a member but have contributed over the years to keep the so-called by you “white elephant” alive!

  41. Chuck says:

    You raise concern about the Legion now! Are you a member? Have you contributed to the years of ongoing attempts to keep the white elephant alive?

  42. Hildagard says:

    I would like to see the proof that Prince Edward County was the most depressed county in all of Ontario 45 years ago!
    Where is the evidence that things were not good in the County 45 years ago?!! To many who have lived in the County for well over 50 years, they would probably say they were better off economically then they are today!

  43. Emily says:

    A good opening would be the 8 ounce draft in the hour glass draft glass for 25 cents! Order up a tray like old times. Great undertaking and good on them for the extreme effort and cost to keep the original walls.

  44. Marie says:

    Sounds wonderful! Can’t wait to visit it when it is completed!!!

  45. Susan Rose says:

    Wonderful for the whole County!

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