Last Call draws crowd
Vincent Ball / Postmedia News The stripper pole from the former Norfolk Inn has been sold but the stage, albeit empty, is still there.The basement bars remain in place for now, but will be removed as renovations to the former Norfolk Inn get underway to make way for an affordable housing project that will include some commercial uses on the main floor and in the basement of the building.“So I get a call from this guy and he says ‘hey, is the pole still there?” Graham Cubitt said with a chuckle.“Yes, I tell him. The pole is still there.“So then this guy says to me. ‘I want to buy it.’ That’s where I met my wife 18 years ago.’”The pole in question of course is the much-revered stripper pole from what will soon be the former and oft times notorious Norfolk Inn in downtown Simcoe.For the record, the pole sold for $300.“I guess it had a lot of sentimental value for him,” Cubitt said.Cubitt is the director of projects and development for Indwell, the new owners of the building. He recounted the story before leading a curious reporter on a tour of the building on Saturday.Indwell, based in Hamilton, plans to clean up and renovate the former tavern and rooming house into affordable housing. Plans call for 32 one-bedroom permanent housing units to be developed on the top floor of the two-storey building. The main level and possibly the full-basement, which was once a night club, will be available for commercial use.“We’re here to make a difference,” Cubitt said as he showed off the artist’s rendering of what the building will look like when the $7 million in renovations are done. “We’ll be providing affordable, independent living with some support.“We’re here to help people and in doing so, I think we’ll help the downtown.” The support will come from a staff team that includes a social worker, nurse, addiction support, food security and maintenance for about $520 a month with one hot meal available daily.To say the proposal is a step up from the building’s recent past is an understatement. It’s several steps up for less money and much-needed support for future tenants.“The building is in pretty rough shape and there were a lot of unsavoury things going on here including drug-dealing,” Cubitt said. “There was one woman here who claimed to be operating a safe consumption site.“She’d get some drugs off the street and bring people back here to get high.”Most of the existing tenants have found new homes with the help of Indwell while some others, including Paul Reaney, who has been living in one of the rooms for the past six months, are still looking for new digs.“I’ve been looking but there’s not much out there,” Reaney said “Not much that’s affordable.”Reaney was paying $600 a month for the room. There aren’t any supports and there hasn’t been much in the way of maintenance.He can’t recall ever meeting the previous landlord and painted the walls himself to brighten up the place. He would be a candidate to live in Indwell once the renovations are done, but that’s at least a year away.The one-bedroom apartments that are available in Simcoe go for about $1,000 a month.Still, he’s not giving up hope and Reaney believes the arrival of Indwell is good for Simcoe. There are a lot of people who need the kind of housing Indwell can provide, he said.Continuing with his tour, Cubitt points to a closed off courtyard on the second floor. There are windows all around so people can look in but there isn’t any door to make it accessible.Indwell plans to turn the area into an atrium and they also want to put in a skylight that will go from the upper level all the way to the basement.Cubitt was just one of many people from Indwell conducting tours on Saturday during ‘Last Call’ – a chance for the public to say good-bye to the tavern and learn more about future plans.Tamra Smith was one of many people to tour the building.“I think it’s fantastic,” Smith said of Indwell’s plans. “This is something that we’ve needed for a long time.“I’m glad that this is happening but at the same time I’m kind of sorry to see the tavern go. I had a lot of good times here back in the day.”Smith is with the group RISE, which helps people living in poverty. She said it’s about time steps were taken to provide some affordable housing in Simcoe.One other woman, who declined to give her name, also gave the proposal an endorsement.“This is something we’ve needed for a long, long time,” she said. “This will do a lot for the downtown and its certainly a lot better than what we have now.”For Mike Smith, the tour was a trip down memory lane.“This place had everything you could ever want in a bar,” Smith said. “Country music, strippers and then rock and roll.“I spent a lot of time here back in the day. It was pretty wild back then.”Others approached for comment used words like ‘fabulous’ and ‘about time,’ of the affordable housing plan.Still, there’s a lot of work to be done.Cleaning up the building will continue for the next couple of months including the removal of asbestos. Plans call for renovations to begin sometime in the summer and if all goes well, the new program will open in the fall of 2020.Meanwhile, one important question remains.While the stripper pole is gone the stage remains in place. And while many of the people on ‘The Last Call’ tour gave it a good look no one, including one woman approached by reporter, would agree to have their picture taken on the stage.“Not on your life honey,” the woman said. “I don’t want this in the newspaper and have someone say ‘hey, I recognize her from 1977.’”FACT BOX:WHAT: Indwell plans to transform the former Norfolk Inn into affordable, supportive housing featuring 32 one-bedrooom units.WHO: Based in Hamilton, Indwell is a Christian charity that creates affordable housing for people who need support. Indwell has housing projects in Hamilton, Woodstock and at Hambleton Hall in Simcoe.HOW MUCH: Indwell has applied for more than $6.7 million in funding from CMHC and is looking for $1 million in capital donations.UNITS: The units will include a bed, bedside table, table, two chairs, comfy chair, basic kitchen kit and appliances.Vball@postmedia.com Paul Reaney, a tenant in the former Norfolk Inn, joins Graham Cubitt, director of projects and development for Indwell, during the Last Call tour held Saturday in downtown Simcoe.