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Local artist has 'super exciting' plans for old BiWay building

Anitta Hamming has ambitious vision for derelict downtown store; 'We think it's wonderful,' says Downtown Orillia Management Board official

A long-vacant downtown store, an eyesore on Mississaga Street for two decades, should soon have a new lease on life.

Anitta Hamming hopes to open Creative Nomad Studios in the fall with major renovations beginning shortly on both floors of the building that once housed the city’s BiWay discount store.

“It’s super exciting,” said Hamming, who signed a 15-year lease with the building’s owner to develop her vision.

An artist who has also worked in business in both Toronto and Barrie, Hamming moved to Orillia four years ago to be closer to her fiance, lawyer John Menear.

“I spent the first year in Orillia painting,” Hamming said. During that time, she realized there wasn’t really a dedicated and affordable space where creative minds and entrepreneurial innovators could work.

“I thought, 'Am I really going to go backwards into my business life?'” 

But back to business is where she's heading after spending nearly the past two years working on the plan and negotiating with the building’s owner, who she declined to identify.

“I have a small studio space at home, but wondered where do other people go to do these things in Orillia and that’s where my business mind came in,” she said. “Orillia has this huge creative scene, but there’s nothing that serves artists.”

While she wouldn’t reveal how much money the overall project will cost, she said a lot of construction and electrical work needs to be done to not only bring the building up to code, but also to create the space that will feature work and meeting areas over two floors each featuring 4,800-square-feet of space.

“It’s a significant investment,” she said. “I told him (the business owner’s representative) that if I did the capital improvements, I would need a long lease. It’s a great space. I wanted 5,000 square-feet and I have almost 10,000.”

For close to two decades, the large downtown building that housed the once-popular discount chain has sat empty and led some to wonder whether it would ever again become a going concern.

But late last year, council committee agreed to provide a grant of $2,100 to the property manager of the 23 Mississaga St. W. building to complete a “much-needed structural analysis to determine what is required to repair the structure and bring it back into productivity.” That represented half the cost of the survey.

While Hamming is very enthusiastic about what the space will eventually bring to the downtown, city officials are also enthused by the plan.

“We think it’s wonderful,” said Downtown Orillia Management Board manager Lisa Thomson-Roop. “It’s an incubator and innovator for collaboration.”

Thomson-Roop said there will also be a number of economic spinoffs created by the facility and those using it throughout the downtown core.

“We’re delighted to see that building change,” she said. “It’s a beautiful building and for too long it has sat empty. This is a benefit to the community as a whole.”

Coun. Ralph Cipolla agreed: “I think it’s a great idea if she can pull it through. If she does it right, she’ll be successful.”

Cipolla said the building has attracted interest over the years, but the owner never wanted to sell.

“I think this will help the downtown and bring people down to this area. It will also be a major tourist attraction to the downtown and will complement the opera house and the library. She’s going to bring it (the building) back to its old self.”

So what, exactly, is Hamming's vision for the downtown building? Check back here tomorrow for all the details!


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Andrew Philips

About the Author: Andrew Philips

Editor Andrew Philips is a multiple award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in some of the country’s most respected news outlets. Originally from Midland, Philips returned to the area from Québec City a decade ago.
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