Justus Veldman's vision for the future of Sault Ste. Marie is bringing new life to an old property on the shores of the former paper town.
As the founder and CEO of Riversedge Developments, a property-development company based in Woodstock, Ont., Veldman heads up a team working to repurpose the former St. Marys Paper mill property into a mixed-use "urban village development." After Blueforest Venture
s, a Riversedge subsidiary, purchased the property in 2012, Veldman outlined a long-term vision for Destination North, a tourism development being established through public-private partnership.
It includes an exhibit on life in the North; an insect discovery centre; a retail space for Aboriginal arts, crafts and fashion; Group of Seven Algoma; and a new depot for the Agawa Canyon Tour Train.
During the restoration process, Veldman established a new business that makes use of St. Marys' former assets. Outquip employs former paper mill workers to source, refurbish and sell industrial equipment from decommissioned industrial sites.
Earlier this year, Riversedge and its subsidiary, Blueforest Ventures, were recognized by the city's Municipal Heritage Committee for their commitment to preserve the site's five heritage sandstone buildings. Commissioned by paper tycoon Francis H. Clergue in the early 19th century as part of the paper mill complex, the buildings are held up as some of the finest examples of the Richardson Romanesque style of architecture in the province.
It's an exciting time for Sault Ste. Marie, which is anticipating a revitalization of the downtown, thanks, in part, to Veldman.
"Mr. Veldman and the Riversedge team are relative newcomers to Sault Ste. Marie, but in two remarkable years have had a significant, refreshing impact on the fabric of the community," wrote Tom Dodds, CEO of the Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corp., in his supporting nomination letter.
Veldman was born in Holland, but grew up in South Africa, the U.S. and Canada. Described as a "self-started entrepreneur," he works in restorative development, industrial capital recovery, and new business development, with ongoing projects in various communities across Northern Ontario.
Upon embarking on the St. Marys project, he relocated to Sault Ste. Marie with his wife, Harlene, and children, Claudia and Filip, making the North his home.
Veldman's Destination North is part of a larger plan to host institutional, commercial, light industrial and residential space at the former paper site. Blueforest has already transformed the former fish hatchery into Mill Market, a farmers market showcasing local wares, and the Algoma Conservatory of Music has moved into its new home in the mill's former administration building.
In 2013, a number of events were held at the Machine Shop building as part of a pilot project to prove the viability of the space as a unique event venue. Blueforest recently announced the building would be available for event bookings starting in June 2015.
Veldman has also been instrumental in helping inform the Canal District Master Plan, the city's long-term strategy for refurbishing an area of the downtown that has been neglected in recent years. It will be closely coordinated with the redevelopment of the city-owned Gateway site, the OLG Casino, and ongoing refurbishment of the International Bridge plaza.
This is just the kind of work that needs to be done to reinvigorate the city for residents and visitors alike, Dodds said. "By leveraging and repurposing this asset, Justus Veldman and his team are helping transform the Sault Ste. Marie downtown and waterfront," Dodds wrote.