Barrie – gateway to cottage country a growing community in its own right

By Wayne Karl
July 05, 2021

Barrie may be best known as the “gateway to cottage country,” but, borrowing from a recent initiative of a certain provincial politician, the city might just as well hang a sign out front saying, “open for business.”

Indeed, the days of this city of 153,356 being little more than a popular getaway destination are long over.

Barrie is a thriving city in its own right. It has long moved on from a bedroom community for Toronto, about 100 kms south, to build its own increasingly diversified economy, with a focus on education, healthcare, information technology and other sectors.

For example, Barrie hosts industry experts, executives, investors and entrepreneurs from across Ontario at the annual Manufacturing Innovation Summit. Presented by the Business Development Bank of Canada, the event strives to help manufacturers maintain competitiveness and maximize productivity.

This year, thanks to COVID, the City of Barrie, in partnership with the County of Simcoe, the City of Orillia, Georgian College and Lakehead University, hosted the fifth annual event virtually.

Creative economy

Further illustrating a focus on economic development, the City has partnered with Sandbox Centre to make regional resources for innovation and entrepreneurship more accessible to local businesses. Opened in 2019, Sandbox Centre is the first private sector-led innovation hub in Ontario.

It is exactly these types of initiatives that make Barrie so appealing for real estate. Economic development means employment, jobs attract residents and residents translate to housing demand.

The city’s ability to attract younger residents is influenced by its growing reputation as a place for families and young, active professionals. Recent GO Transit expansion has made it easier for professionals to live in Barrie, where it’s more affordable, and work in Toronto or somewhere along the way.

All of this makes Barrie one of the hottest housing markets in all of Canada. Yes, you read that right. Aggregate home prices for the first quarter of 2021 rose 7.2 per cent to $646,166 from $602,559 in the fourth quarter of 2020 – and 22.6 per cent from $527,078 in the first quarter of 2020.

Development strategy

“Unlike Vaughan and other suburban cities, Barrie’s development strategy and plan has been gradual, unfolding and evolving over decades to ensure sustainable and manageable growth,” Max Maccari, broker with Right at Home Realty, Barrie branch, told NextHome. “The pandemic has also likely caused an accelerated shift in lifestyle needs, and what the media has deemed a ‘mass exodus’ from the city. In my opinion, this shift was happening organically, and simply fueled by the ‘fears’ and ‘uncertainty’ of the global crisis.

“And, as a result, the huge spike in demand for homes set the real estate market on fire, with prices increasing 40 per cent compared to May 2020.”

For new home development, much of the activity is taking place in the south end of the city, where townhomes and condos are the prevalent housing type, to appeal to first-time buyers and downsizers, Maccari says.

“Barrie municipal government and employees have made excellent decisions over the years, master-planning the city’s future growth,” he says. “The new housing opportunities over the next three to seven years will be sufficient to maximize Barrie’s population targets.”

And when it comes to recreation property, the Barrie area really proves its mettle. Average prices of waterfront rec properties skyrocketed 72 per cent to $1.68 million in 2020 from $1.07 million in 2019, according to the 2021 ReMax Recreational Property Report. The realty firm forecasts growth of another 10 per cent through 2021.

Live, work and play

Tourism still plays an important role in the local economy, with the historic downtown and waterfront among the major attractions. During non-COVID times, of course, the downtown area hosts numerous annual festivals and events, such as The Barrie Waterfront Festival, Barrielicious, Winterfest, Jazz & Blues Festival, Promenade Days, and Ribfest and Craft Beer Show.

Barrie is also home to Kempenfest, one of the largest outdoor arts and crafts celebrations in Ontario.

During the winter months, people still flock to the area’s nearby ski hills – Horseshoe Resort, Mount St. Louis Moonstone, and a little further afoot, Blue Mountain.

Then, of course, there’s the hometown Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League, who play out of the Sadlon Arena downtown.

Location, location, location

Located in Simcoe County in the northern part of the Greater Golden Horseshoe, about 100 kms north of Toronto, 36 km to Orillia; population 153,356.

Key landmarks

• Centennial Park & Beach
• Georgian Theatre
• Heritage Park
• MacLaren Art Centre
• Sadlon Arena
• Waterfront Heritage Trail

Select housing developments

BEA Townhomes

By StateView Homes

Braestone Horseshoe Valley

By Georgian Communities

Essa Towns

By Centreville Homes

Friday Harbour Resort

By Geranium

Lakeview Towns

By Plazacomm

Midhurst Heights

By Geranium

Professor’s Walk

By Democrat Homes

About Wayne Karl

Wayne Karl is an award-winning writer and editor with experience in real estate and business. Wayne explores the basics – such as economic fundamentals – you need to examine when buying property.

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