About a week after I wrote a story about former premier Danny Williams applying to buy more Crown land for his development in Southlands, Williams offered to take me out to show me how things are progressing.
He said he wanted me to understand the scale of it — that it’s really hard to appreciate without seeing it in person.
Along Pitts Memorial Drive, and the Trans-Canada Highway, big swaths of land are being cleared and graded — hundreds of acres, being prepared for commercial, residential and industrial construction.
The massive dump trucks and excavators are dwarfed by the huge open spaces. At this stage, they’re working on 300 acres — about 100 acres each of residential, commercial and industrial — which would be a significant development all by itself, but it represents only 12 per cent of the total land Williams owns up by the highway.
Talking about it as we drive around, Williams is constantly extolling the benefits, but part of the sales pitch is about the future of St. John’s, and the province as a whole.
Williams’ brand, his identity and, by extension, the Galway development is linked to a bright future for Newfoundland and Labrador — otherwise, he won’t be able to sell all those houses.
“I think the long-term prospects for this place are very good,” he said. “I believe in it. I really, firmly believe in it.”
He said there is still a lot more oil to be developed offshore, and as long as that keeps rolling along, the centre of gravity for the province will be in St. John’s.
The first 300 acres of development will take years to develop, and the full scope of the Galway project is better measured in decades.
“I’d be lying to you if I say you didn’t go into this thing trying to make some money at the end of the day, but I can say our projections on this project is there’ll be no major return for the first 10 years,” he said. “This is important for me. I don’t want to use the term ‘legacy piece,’ but I want to build something out here that people can be proud of.”
Williams said as a former premier, and a massive figure in recent Newfoundland and Labrador politics, he’ll never be able to fly under the radar in business, but that’s both a positive and a negative.
“I think if we build something out there that was a mess, then people won’t go there. They’re not going to buy a piece of land in Galway just because Williams built it,” he said. “But if it looks like it’s shaping up as a very nice master-planned community, I’m hoping they’ll say, ‘Yeah, well, if Danny was involved, hopefully he did it right.’”