I’ve been wrong in my judgment at least a couple of times, back in 1994 completing a 180-degree turnaround on one offering benefits to gay and lesbian couples, presciently suggesting I would go so far as to allow marriage.
With that in mind I guess I am going to have to wish success to the downtown plaza project that council approved on an 8-3 vote last week.
Don’t get me wrong. At a cost of $8.4 million for the plaza itself and $2.9 million for an ancilliary farmer’s market, I still think the whole idea is ridiculous considering our downtown is essentially a single street two kilometres in length.
But since it is now a go I find I can only wish it well. To wish it to fail would violate a personal ethical standard I have always attempted to follow.
I suppose it is possible I have a different idea than council of what would attract people to the downtown. I have always believed the best attraction is good shopping, something that at the moment is in scarce supply on Queen Street, our main drag.
But I note Ward 2 Coun. Luke Dufour has it defined more in the way of a party place for the locals to gather.
“I remember very well all the street parties of 2016, 2017,” he said during the council session, fondly recalling what it was like downtown when several thousand people attended Christmas tree lightings.
He said it was important council show some vision in building to that view of what the downtown is going to be over the years to come.
Yeah, a skating rink with a compressor and a farmer’s market with no parking will complete that vision, sarcasm, in case you missed it.
I have a bit of a problem with a couple of the donations that are going toward the project, specifically those from the Economic Development Corporation and Tourism Sault Ste. Marie.
These two operations, which are located in city hall and are essentially arms of the city, have each put up $250,000 toward the plaza.
This is playing games.
The plaza has nothing to do with economic development and it is a stretch to think it will provide any help to the tourism industry.
Actually, when you think about it, the EDC is nothing compared to what it once was, a truly independent corporation.
A few years back it had its budget cut by $450,000 and as a result had to lay off staff, resulting in termination payoffs that cost the city several hundred thousand dollars.
Then the coup de gras was administered last year, the EDC being pulled right into city hall with its director to begin reporting to Tom Vair, Deputy CAO, Community Development and Enterprise Services
At the time I questioned Chief Administrative Officer Malcolm White as to how things would work.
“Both the economic development staff and the tourism staff will report through the Community Development & Enterprise Services (CD&ES) area, albeit in separate verticals, as they will be interacting with two different boards (Economic Development Corporation and a new Tourism Development Corporation),” White said.
This led me to suggest in a column that the director, Dan Hollingsworth, wouldn’t last long in the job and he didn’t. He resigned.
The EDC still has a board but it is now simply in an advisory role to the city as it no longer can get anything done on its own. Why anyone would want to serve on it is beyond me.
However, it does sit on a pile of cash that I have no doubt the city would love to get its hands on but hasn’t been able to figure out a way to legally do so.
The city bought and sold Searchmont Ski Resort and also sold the Sutherland Building, the two sales bringing in anywhere from $2.5 to $3.5 million according to a source who asked not to be identified.
I have heard some rumblings about the Community Growth Initiatives fund being stripped of upwards of $2.7 million through 2024 to go toward the plaza project, but although we might not see it as a fit, council does and there is no caveat on where it can allot the funds.
In regard to the businesses that might benefit from the plaza, most seem to be a distance from the immediate area. There are two empty buildings immediately east of the plaza and across the street sits the empty Windsor Park and the building that once housed the Hong Kong bank.
RBC is moving from the area and I think it is only a matter of time that the Bank of Montreal does too as it no longer needs a building of that size. If rumours are to be believed, the CIBC branch on Queen may also be going.
There are a couple of things I believe will be central to the success of the plaza: the downtown merchants will have to remain open evenings and Saturdays and there will also have to be more of a police presence.
Some people don’t like to walk Queen Street even in daylight now because they don’t believe it is safe.
As well, the plaza might be a great overnight attraction for some, resulting in a search for used needles being required each morning.
A 60-unit condominium is being proposed for the former Northern Breweries site and that will eat up more of the parking in the area. It will remain to be seen if an expansion of the parking lot north of City Hall will be able to handle it.
Anyway, the die is cast; the plaza is going ahead.
We can only hope for the best, that council might just know what it is doing, as hard as that may be to believe.