While new development projects are put on hold weathering the current economic storm, the project management team at Aerarium Group is taking this opportunity to upgrade existing holdings. “You don’t want to throw a party that’s going to cost $12 to $14 million and have no one show up,” says general manager Rob Nicholson, referring to one 10-storey office building that is set to be erected on a vacant lot on Barrie’s Owen Street. “We, as developers, have a couple of projects ready to go, but we’re waiting for tenancy,” agrees president Steve Sperling. “We need to pre-lease some of this space.” Instead, consideration is being given to the company’s three-million-plus square-footage of industrial and commercial space that’s already in play. “With everything else quiet, it gives us an opportunity to improve our product,” says Nicholson. The building that currently houses the Simcoe County District Health Unit, for example, is undergoing an energy audit to “see what can be done to retrofit it to make it more energy efficient,” he adds. “We’re very concerned about our carbon footprint,” says Sperling. “We want it to be as green as possible.” Today’s economic situation also offers plenty of opportunity, he adds, to purchase additional properties he expects to come up for sale. “A year from now, we’ll be expanding our portfolio.” But some of those businesses that are selling their real estate may not be leaving the area. “There are businesses that are viable,” he says, despite the need to sell. “So, we’ll buy the building and keep them on as a tenant. We’ve done it before.” Aerarium has traditionally worked with business owners to accommodate their property needs – including re-negotiating a lease in mid term to move a tenant to a new, more appropriate location. “If they succeed, we do,” says Sperling simply. In fact, “if Barrie succeeds, we do.” That’s the reason he is vocal in wanting city hall to drop development charges that requires developers to pony up a fee at the beginning of a project. “It would be wonderful if the city council would give serious thought to reducing or eliminating development charges,” nods Nicholson. “At least until we’re out of this recession,” Sperling amends. The men say the change would make Barrie more competitive and encourage construction. So would resolving the boundary issue between the city and Innisfil. “Barrie has the ability to service land, but Innisfil has the land,” explains Nicholson. “Growth fuels a lot of the economy other than the construction industry.” In the meantime, now’s the time to re-group and be pro-active, he adds. “There’s a tremendous shake-up going on in business and the economy – we haven’t seen this before. But reality isn’t as bad as the media says. People are just afraid,” says Sperling. “I’m hoping with this infrastructure funding from the province and the federal government, things will improve before the next boom – and there will be one.” For more information, call 705-726-7130.