A Chinese real estate developer says it remains committed to a massive residential project in Guysborough County.
“Engineering and survey work is underway,” said Stephen Dempsey, local spokesman for Dongdu International Group, on Tuesday.
“Site design is not yet complete so this is holding up physical construction. We might get something in the ground this construction season, but it will be close.”
Dongdu took Nova Scotia by surprise in May when it purchased 1,200 hectares of stunted forest land in Indian Harbour and announced plans for a luxurious eco-friendly hideaway catering mainly to wealthy Chinese.
In total, the company purchased nine properties in Nova Scotia and a property management company.
“The access road is about 3.5 kilometres long, and the intention is to have eco-gardens and bridges crossing watercourses before you even get to the vehicle park,” said Dempsey.
“Then on the site itself you travel in electric vehicles.”
While this is Dongdu’s first investment in Nova Scotia, it’s not its first foray into North America. Last September, the company purchased two skyscrapers in downtown Detroit for $13.6 million.
The former Detroit Free Press building was unoccupied at the time of the purchase, and the 38-storey David Stott Building had only 15 per cent occupancy.
While the company announced plans to spend $50 million redeveloping the buildings into apartment and retail complexes, little progress has been made so far.
Ryan Snoek, the broker who sold the buildings to Dongdu at auction last fall, was quoted in Crain’s Detroit Business in March saying the company hadn’t begun work on either building and proper maintenance wasn’t being done.
“They had these grand plans to dump millions into the (Stott) building,” said Snoek, who couldn’t be reached by The Chronicle Herald on Wednesday.
“I’m starting to become concerned that may not be the case, that they just bought the buildings and will just hold on to it.
“That’s my fear. I hope it’s not true, but I’ve had some indicators it might be. It’s already been six months and they haven’t put a dollar into this building. They haven’t put a dollar into the Free Press building.”
But Dempsey said the company is serious about the proposed Guysborough County resort it’s calling Indian Harbour Lakes Community.
While Dongdu will spend over $10 million designing and preparing the site, the actual construction of the homes will be paid for by the Chinese customers buying them, he said.
The owners of the villas, which are still in the design phase, would share common services at the rural site.
Total investment at the location could eventually reach $500 million, according to Dempsey.
Farhad Vladi, the previous owner of the site, told The Chronicle Herald earlier this year that he had purchased it as forestry land but pulp and paper companies didn’t want it.
“You don’t have to have 500 people sign up in China to make this work,” said Dempsey.
“We’re not building a 500-room hotel. What we are doing here is building in phases. So if you get 25 people signed up, then you build 25 residences in the first phase and move from there.”
While the site is being marketed to a growing class of wealthy Chinese seeking to escape pollution and population congestion, the video advertising it on the company’s website shows images of well-heeled white people doing adventure sports that aren’t for the most part available in Guysborough County.
Other than a Google Earth shot of Indian Harbour Lake, there isn’t any footage from the actual community.
“It’s showing (Chinese investors) who is here; this is a part of the country with not very visible diversity,” Dempsey said of the video. “They were also likely the images that are available.”
For his part, the warden of the District of St. Mary’s, the municipality responsible for Indian Harbour, welcomes the project.
“This is wonderful for the municipality,” Michael Mosher said Tuesday.
“We welcome them.”
Dongdu recently held community consultations in three communities in the municipality about the proposed work, and Mosher said they were well received.
“They are going about it very methodically,” he said.
“They have approached the planning department we share with (the Municipality of Guysborough County).”
The company has not yet applied for any building permits.