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AerialLet me start by confessing that it’s not a billion-dollar bet–it’s more like $1.5 billion.

You know how some people think the media is given to exaggeration, so we thought we’d understate this one for impact! It’s hard to imagine that much money in one place and it’s harder still to grasp the scope of the new Friday Harbour development that is taking place at Big Bay Point on Lake Simcoe in Ontario.

What we want to emphasize though, is that this is truly a $1.5 billion bet on boating. To be clear [as they now stay in the Senate] this could easily have been a resort development based around the golf course and nature preserve or other outdoor activities, on much less expensive land, with probably an equally convenient location and with few of the spectacular environmental and land development hurdles that the developer has had to overcome, or comply with.

In fact, Friday Harbour is the first developer and builder in the Lake Simcoe watershed to partner with the Lake Simcoe Conservation Foundation's new "Inspiring Greener Communities Program". More significantly, this is not a dream or a conceptual situation; it’s over halfway to completion now.

The permits and environmental okays are in on all parts of this development and by the time it’s done, a massive and carefully managed dredging operation will have created 4 km of new Lake Simcoe shoreline! We love the numbers around this development.

(The aerial photograph take a while ago shows the size and scope of the development. Things have progressed well past this now with occupancy planned for 2016.)

The Marina Village [in the artist’s rendering above] is to be the focal point of this resort and there will be boat-in restaurants, a significant retail development by the docks and of course, the dramatically rebuilt Big Bay Point Marina which was where all this started.

Overall, a vast team of people will work on the 600 acre development and there will be $25 million specifically invested in the creation of the new marina that is planned to have up to 1000 new slips.

More staggering numbers - the development of Friday Harbour will create almost 8,000 person years in employment during the construction phase currently underway. On completion, there will be approximately 1,000 permanent jobs and 1,486 jobs created off-site.

earlIn terms of the eventual economic benefits to the area, Friday Harbour is expected to generate $4.4 million annually in taxes for Innisfil and $2.4 million annually in taxes for Simcoe County. Already,  $10 million has been spent by Geranium to expand local sewer and water infrastructure and the estimates are that $190 million will be spent annually by visitors and owners of resort in the local and regional community.

Certainly GTA readers will know Geranium. Geranium Corporation builds Geranium Homes and we had the pleasure of meeting the man behind this amazing project. His name is Earl Rumm and he is the Geranium Corporation principal.  He grew up spending his time in the summers on Lake Simcoe and 12 years ago he conceived the vision for Friday Harbour from an initial photo in the boat shop of the old Big Bay Point Marina.

(Earl Rumm is the man behind this amazing, billion dollar development.)

Earl is a second-generation Ontario developer and homebuilder and he came to the Friday Harbour plan with the vision gained from a lifetime in the GTA and on the lake.

“Time is valuable and friends and family are most important. Friday Harbour offers opportunities to take advantage of maximizing the things that are so special in life.” said Rumm,  “Who doesn’t want more time to enjoy life and get away?”

harbourEarl Rumm clearly understood the complexities of our evolving demographic situation where the steady increases in women entering the workforce and having careers fundamentally changed the makeup of greater Toronto area families and their family sizes. With Mom working, there were fewer children and fewer opportunities to spend summers at the lake.

Other big factors like computers, the Internet and the rise of mobile communications mean that work hours are extended. People are very “time short” and a 2 and 1/2 hour slog up the highway through Friday traffic to the cottage has lost its appeal for many.

(This artist’s concept for the boardwalk area shows marina slips with the planned retail storefronts and dining.)

At the same time, this dual income situation has made it more affordable for families to travel and for young people to pursue organized sports or higher education as well as doing their own international travel, so again, fewer people are spending vacation weeks at a cottage. Even a weekend sometimes seems to be too big a time commitment to keep the family together in one place.

We know many of our readers are concerned about declining cottage use and therefore declining boat use for all the reasons above and more.

If you are not familiar with Lake Simcoe and Big Bay Point, this $1.5 billion resort by the Geranium Corporation is within an hour’s drive of downtown Toronto and is accessible by GO Train. It is within close proximity of 6.5 million people which partly explains why it’s already more than half sold.

Imagine if the cottage were this close to the GTA. What if younger family members could get there independently riding the GO Train from Union Station, quickly and at a very low cost? We know many young people, especially downtown condo dwellers no longer own a car. That’s a big factor for cottaging.

For that matter, what if the whole family could commute from the cottage to downtown offices in Toronto quickly and easily? We think that would significantly change how people could use both the cottage and their boat.

harbour 2These factors were all considered when Earl Rumm developed his vision for Friday Harbour and he has embarked on what is now believed to be the largest new resort under construction in all of North America. We think it may also be one of the most compelling.

Overall, Friday Harbour will include up to 2,000 residential units, a pedestrian village, the newly rebuilt 40-acre marina with up to a 1,000 boat slips, an 18-hole championship golf course and a 200-acre environmentally protected area.

By the way, in winter, it will be little more than a 30 minute drive from a few large ski resorts and little more than an hour from Collingwood. This is not a single season development by any means!

(This second view of the Boardwalk from the water shows how convenient it will be for visitors and guests to boat into Friday Harbour.)

Friday Harbour is a new style of resort, combining the pleasures of the cottage country living with comprehensive urban amenities, a vibrant social life and yet a maintenance-free lifestyle for those who now lack either the energy or the time to keep up their own lake-front property.

Anticipated occupancy for the first residential units is scheduled for Spring 2015 so this whole thing is coming up fast.

The creativity behind this development and the billion dollar bet on boating has many important dimensions. Obviously, many of the residential units will be on or near the waterfront. Some owners will be able to keep their boat right at their residence, moored at their dock. That was Earl Rumm’s first thought but it has evolved from there.

Friday Harbour will also have dock space for transient boaters and the location is very convenient for those coming from Georgian Bay, going through the Trent Severn system or even cruisers doing The Great Loop.

Those visitors will also be able to stop and stay in a hotel at Friday Harbour - often a welcome change from living and bathing onboard. When they are there, they can golf, walk the nature preserve, enjoy several dining options and go shopping as well. And, not just at Friday Harbour. There will be shuttle options to go to nearby Barrie where almost anything you could reasonably want, is available.

Don’t forget that Lake Simcoe cottagers can also visit to shop or dine. As a person who also grew up on Lake Simcoe, there have been few places to visit by boat and never before, anything like Friday Harbour. Now you have a great place to go!

Earl Rumm has not stopped there either. The dramatically re-created Big Bay Point Marina will have a full range of facilities and services and to ensure the scope of services will meet the needs of the new Friday Harbour residents, they have also purchased a marina across the bay where more serious (or less aesthetic!) work and storage can be handled, keeping Friday Harbour neat and elegant while providing the level of service residents and visitors alike will want.

One of the things that got me even more excited about the Friday Harbour complex is the plan to have a fleet of boats for rent and perhaps even for instruction.

Canada’s marine industry is very concerned about how we can introduce new people to boating. Well, Friday Harbour will have a solution. The fleet of rental boats and possibly even such services as a water ski and wakeboard school can dramatically expand the recreational options that residents enjoy.

Imagine being able to invite guests to the cottage and having easy access to a ski boat, fishing boat or a pontoon that you could rent if your own boat was not suitable for the occasion.

And yes, you can take your guests golfing too!

It was an important goal for Earl Rumm that Friday Harbour would set a new benchmark for sustainable resort development and the developer has incorporated considerations such as wildlife habitat, endangered species protection, water quality and reduction of greenhouse gases into its planning.

We are giving credit to Earl Rumm himself as the driving force behind this vision but as you would imagine in a billion-dollar investment, what he did was to recruit a world-class team.

Those involved in this grand resort development includes leading New Urbanism planners Duany Plater-Zyberk, resort planners/designers/operators Re:Play Resorts Inc.; international marina consultants and designers Applied Technology & Management; award-winning golf course designer Doug Carrick; and architect Peter Clewes of Architects Alliance.
 
Friday Harbour’s New Urbanist design with a mixed-use pedestrian village clustered around the harbour, is inspired by some of Europe’s great harbour towns. The harbour will be ringed by condominiums, hotel units, restaurants, shops, a boardwalk, a lake clubhouse and even a performing arts centre.

Purchasers will enjoy full ownership and just to be clear, the full-service marina can handle any boat that can navigate the Trent Severn Waterway. Earl Rumm might not have specifically set out to help the marine industry, but we think Friday Harbour will have a host of positive benefits to the industry, especially by keeping some families in boating when their changing family make-up might have otherwise seen them selling out of cottage-country and giving up boating.

On the other hand, Friday Harbour will also open up the boating lifestyle to people who might otherwise have remained living in the downtown core. This is really a reasonable commute to businesses all across the GTA and there will be a 10-minute shuttle to take residents to the Barrie GO Train and from there, right to Union Station.

We encourage you to watch as this development reaches completion. It really is a billion-dollar bet on boating!