Since when was city council appointed the moral police of this city?
That thought jumped out at me last week when council agreed to pay $350,000 to purchase the two lots on the corner of Queen and Hudson Streets which had housed Studio 10, a strip joint, until fire took it last year.
Think about it.
The city does not need the property.
It has no specific plans for it.
The $350,000 it (make that we taxpayers) is going to pay appears to be well above what the property is worth.
Although some councillors attempted to paint a rosier picture, it was obvious the main reason for buying the property was to avoid ever again having a strip club within the city limits since this site is the only one zoned to allow such an activity.
It appears the thought of women dancing naked in a bar in the sophisticated metropolitan city of Sault Ste. Marie was just too much for some councillors.
Yet you can see much worse on tv and far worse on your computer right in your home.
Actually we have been here before, without the heavy cost, with city staff misguidedly assuming the role of moral authority.
Back in 2001 staff ordered three nude statues by Michael Burtch removed from the front wall of the John Rhodes Centre after a few complaints from the public about the nudity. Some of the complainants even suggested pubic hair could be seen on one.
Naturally, making the national news, we were ridiculed across the country on that one.
Council, which had approved the statues originally, saved the day, ordering that they be returned to their rightful place.
Burtch said at the time he believed the majority of Sault Ste. Marie residents are tolerant and open-minded and what has happened is no reflection of the city, “but of a small minority.”
I guess this time the nudes being live, instead of being made of material, made a difference in council’s eyes.
“I believe that this is a wise decision,” Ward 5 Coun. Corey Gardi said of the purchase of the Studio 10 property.
“I am confident that a vast majority of the community does not want an establishment like that one located where it is.”
I think he should have had something more to back up that statement than just his confidence.
I bet a canvass of the community would show that only a small minority gives a damn.
I can’t recall seeing any groundswell of opinion from the religious types or otherwise to get Studio 10 out of business and out of the community. I think most people, like myself, never gave it a thought one way or the other.
After all, the Sault is not a Bible belt. Churches are closing their doors on a regular basis.
Mayor Christian Provenzano, although agreeing the city was paying a premium for the property and feeling it was warranted if it prevented the launch of another strip club, also saw the purchase in broader terms.
“I think removing the designation is certainly a motivating factor, but I think it’s a lot broader than that. I think there are a lot of other positives that come from this. I think history will look back at this decision as a wise one.”
Some councillors saw it as a good fit with James Street revitalization, the Mill Market and proposed Gateway development.
Only Ward 5 Coun. Matthew Scott opposed the purchase.
In response to his question as to whether an appraisal of the two parcels was obtained, City Solicitor Karen Fields said there wasn’t, that staff looked at the value the Municipal Property Assessment Corp. had attached to the properties, guessing it was either $62,000 or $69,000 per property as she didn’t have the figures in front of her.
“I don’t find value spending that kind of money to remove a zoning from a piece of property, even if we could flip it,” said Coun. Scott.
He’s right. There should have been an appraisal and Fields or somebody should have had those figures available for council.
One of the things that seems to have been missed in this situation is that Studio 10 was a legitimate business that as well as providing entertainment for a certain clientele was also paying taxes to this city.
It was a point not lost on former councillor Ozzie Grandinetti.
“So what if it’s an adult entertainment business?” he said in a letter in The Sault Star. “They have their customers and there is nothing wrong with them as there are many of them in cities throughout Ontario and Canada operating as legal businesses, just like the pot shops we have in town now.”
As far as I am concerned, council is there to represent us all and should not be basing any of its decisions on moral grounds.
Council made another purchase that same night that surprisingly to me didn’t bring about much in the way of controversy.
It is going to pay $300,000 for the rail right of way along the north side of the Gateway property, which the Algoma Canyon Tour Train used to get to its old terminal on the Station Mall site, in support of the Bawating Urban Indigenous Committee and its proposed $40 million Gateway development.
The proposal includes a multi-residential and commercial development for the city’s 13-acre waterfront Gateway site, complete with green space and cultural space. The city has a memorandum of Understanding to make the site available.
I am OK with that.
My question is, why is the city going to pay for this extra land? Surely a group planning a $40 million development can afford to buy the land itself.