Windmill launches phase one of "Zibi" at Chaudière Falls

Windmill Development Group unveiled plans Tuesday for the first phase of a mixed-use project that will see the Chaudière Falls and Ottawa River’s rapids accessible to the public for the first time in more than 200 years.

The development will be known as Zibi, the Algonquin word for river. The name came from Patrick Henry, the executive director of the Canadian Canoe Federation, and was one of 200 submissions in a naming competition.

Windmill partner Rodney Wilts said the company has always recognized the importance of the Algonquin, French and English cultures that have a history at the site where Philemon Wright first established a sawmill in 1808.

“We wanted to find names that were respectful of the three cultures, names that had meaning, names that were respectful of the river,” he said.

There were no members of the Algonquin community present for the unveiling, although Windmill founding partner Jeff Westeinde said they were invited. He said Windmill has been in discussions with the Algonquin people for the past 18 months.

“Those take time, though. We’re working hard on that,” he added.

Work on the first three buildings of the 125,000-square-foot inaugural phase will begin in three in a few months, with leasing for commercial property slated to begin in the fall. Windmill plans to start selling residential property in a couple of months, with two new six-story buildings expected to be ready for occupancy by 2017.

The $1-billion project at the 15-hectare site is expected to take 10-15 years to complete. It will include a mix of commercial and retail properties, condos, a hotel, waterfront parks, open spaces and pedestrian and cycling paths.

“This is going to be one of the most, if not the most, sustainable community on the planet,” said Windmill founder Jonathan Westeinde. “We’ve obviously given a lot of thought to this. We’re using the One Planet Living Action Plan to execute on that. We’re really trying to foster new business opportunities that can be created as a result of the dynamic elements of this site, and of course, water, both the reduction of water use and most importantly, protection of that great river that we have right in front of us. It is a magnificent showpiece of our combined cities.”

Windmill brought in Toronto-based Dream Unlimited as a partner in the project. Jeff Westeinde said the developer was chosen more for its expertise than its money.

“We had a number of investors that would have been happy to invest with us, but with Dream, they just finished the Pan-Am Village (in Toronto), they did Distillery District (in Toronto), they work across the country, they’ve been excellent, excellent partners to work with,” he said, adding the Distillery District is “the closest example of what it is we would like to do here.”

Dream’s senior vice-president of urban development, Jason Lester, said the Zibi project fits well with the company’s goal of building better communities.

“To be part of a project which will see these historic falls open to the public after more than a century is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said.

Windmill and Dream representatives were also joined by government officials for the announcement.

“Long, long, long has this been a place of natural wonder,” said National Capital Commission CEO Mark Kristmanson. “It was a place of natural wonder, and with that history comes a responsibility we all share, you as business leaders and we as representatives of local and federal governments. This launch event today is an important step to restoring that wonder.”

Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin praised what he called an unprecedented level of co-operation between local governments to get the project off the ground quickly.

“A tremendous amount of work has already been done making it possible to secure all necessary approvals within just one year, certainly a first for the region,” he said.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said the Zibi development will be a major part of a sweeping makeover of the area.

“This community will be well-served by light rail transit on the other side of the river and the work that we’re going to see that the NCC has undertaken now with respect to LeBreton Flats,” he said.

Until Tuesday, Windmill hadn’t been linked to the redevelopment of LeBreton Flats. But Jeff Westeinde confirmed the company is a partner with the Rendez Vous LeBreton Group, which includes the Ottawa Senators, in a bid to build “a major event centre for sports and entertainment performances” as well as residential and commercial development and green space on the 21.6-hectare site.

He offered no further details.

“Not today,” he said.