Orillia Airport’s New Owner Envisions A Buttonville Alternative
Commercial Realty Group principal Clayton Smith is a developer by trade. He’s also a bush pilot who just bought Orillia Rama Regional Airport, aiming to create a new gateway to the north now that Buttonville is closing.
Clayton, a panelist at Bisnow's upcoming Workplace of the Future and Adaptive Reuse Revolution event, flew us up to Orillia in his Cessna 185 float plane to check things out.
We snapped Clayton on the apron of the airport, a 240-acre property he acquired six months ago. He tells us his plan is to add four hangars this winter (creating 50k SF of new indoor space for 30 more planes) and double the size of both the airport's mechanic shop and on-site flight school. Clayton is also building a new 5k SF restaurant with a patio/deck overlooking Lake St. John, which he envisions becoming a destination for airport users as well as locals and tourists looking for a cool spot to grab a bite. And Casino Rama is a five-minute drive away, “so we’re in a great position to improve that business relationship.”
Buttonville, Canada’s busiest private airport, closes a year from now, with Cadillac Fairview redeveloping the 160-acre site into a mixed-use community. That’ll create a void for aviators, and Clayton says the goal is to shift some of that business to Orillia airport (seen above). “If I get 20 planes calling this their base instead of Buttonville, great.” He’s spending $2M to upgrade Orillia’s facilities, and has already re-asphalted the runway and apron. Clayton says the venture stands to be a nice little moneymaker, via the restaurant, leasing out of paint and maintenance shops, hangar space and flight school, plus lucrative fuel sales.
A float plane base, Orillia's airport has been the hub for Clayton, a licensed commercial bush pilot who’s flown for 18 years. Most private pilots log 30 hours annually; he does over 120, visiting remote spots like Ungava Bay to fish Arctic char and hunt caribou with the Inuit. “I love living off the land; that’s why I got into flying into the wilderness.” He’s ventured from Cape Breton on the East Coast through the Rockies and out to Tofino on the West Coast. Upon learning Orillia’s airport was for sale, he saw a chance to fuse a love for development with his passion for flying. “There are hobby farmers, I’m a hobby airport guy.”
Clayton’s development slate also includes 35 McCaul St, which we recently spotlighted. The three new floors being added have been leased to a single user, and Clayton says construction will commence shortly. He’s got “irons in the fire” on a few other projects, but stresses his near-term focus will be on the Orillia airport. Footings must be poured soon so work on the new hangars and expansion of the mechanic shop/flight school can be done this winter, alongside creation of the waterfront restaurant. It’s lots to tackle on a tight timeline, Clayton says, “but we’re excited about building a real community here.”