Oshawa’s Friends of Second Marsh wants to turn GM headquarters into wetlands research centre

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Published March 29, 2022 at 8:43 am

An “audacious” plan from the Friends of Second Marsh environmental organization to turn the former General Motors Canada headquarters building and lands into a wetlands interpretive, education and research centre has been dubbed “premature” by Oshawa Council, who sent the request for support to committee for comment.

Friends of Second Marsh president Peter Taylor said his group’s vision is to re-purpose the building, located at 1908 Colonel Sam Drive, into a ‘Great Lakes Centre for education and research, which would “study wetlands, develop approaches to preserve these sensitive ecological habitats, address invasive species management, restore natural systems and investigate natural infrastructure as a means to combat the impacts of climate change.”

The 350,000 sq.-ft. building, which served as GM Canada’s headquarters since its inception in 1989, has been “largely underutilized’ for several years and the company recently moved its head office staff to the GM Oshawa Technical Centre building on Wentworth Street, according to Jennifer Wright, GM Canada’s Director of Communications.

The atrium at GM headquarters

Wright said the building was listed for sale “about a month ago,” noting that GM has been looking to “consolidate” some of its Oshawa properties.

Subsequent phone calls and emails about the potential sale and of the plan from Friends of Second Marsh went unanswered, however.

Oshawa Councillor John Gray, who recommended the Development Services Committee look at the Friends of Second Marsh proposal before offering support, said it’s too early in the game to asking for a building that is worth about $50 million and lands that could fetch more than $150 million on the open market.

“The building is being properly marketed right now and we shouldn’t be undermining the process,” he said, adding the City’s own Economic Development department will be helping GM with the sale. “GM is not going to just give it away.”

Gray pointed out that it’s unlikely the proposed Great Lakes Centre would need the entire multi-storey building anyway. “The best fit for the building is as another corporate headquarters. Friends of the Second Marsh can then approach the new owners about being a tenant.”

The environmental organization hasn’t approached GM yet about the proposal but is busy gathering the academic and public and private sector partners – along with support from Oshawa and other municipalities – to make it come together.

“It’s the perfect location for an education and research centre,” Taylor said in his letter to the City, noting that the building is located on the edge of the McLaughlin Bay Wildlife Reserve, overlooking Lake Ontario. It also sits between Darlington Provincial Park and the Second Marsh Wildlife Area – one of the last, and at 137 hectares, the “largest and most biodiverse coastal wetland remaining on the north shore of Lake Ontario.”

Taylor called the proposal a “once in a lifetime opportunity” and hoped the vision could become reality in time for Oshawa’s 100th birthday as a city in 2024.

Oshawa Councillor Bob Chapman said he supported the proposal “in principle” but noted it would take “a lot of support” and money to make it happen.

“I think it would be a great idea if it ever comes to fruition.”

The idea of GM donating the lands also came up three years ago after the company announced it was closing automotive operations; a decision only reversed last fall when the assembly plant re-opened.

The 2018 request was to convert the building into a health care facility and “wellness hub,” a motion that was defeated at committee level in February 2019.

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