“If you build it, he will come,” – Field of Dreams.
Kevin Costner, playing a farmer, proceeds to build a baseball diamond in a corn field and the ghosts of baseball legends past came to play.
One wonders, if City Hall members stood at the site of the new Dowtown Plaza and heard much the same voices.
But just like the movie, build what? Who will come?
If you were to ask local businesses, the Library Board and the many citizens who have voiced their opposition to the project, the new attraction is most likely to only attract substance users, needles, individuals who suffer from mental health issues and homeless people.
If you ask those at City Hall, the 8 million dollar project, (cut back from $10 million by City staff), which started with a budget of just over $6 million, is being built to help attract tourists and become a new community gathering place.
For the sake of everyone involved, taxpayers, downtown businesses, City Hall and our tourism industry, here is hoping they are right.
Before I go any further, it may appear as though, through my stories, I am completely opposed to the Plaza. However, that assumption would be wrong.
In reality, I want what is best for the city, when it’s best for the city. With the number of deaths from overdoses climbing year-over-year during a drug-epidemic, reports of needles throughout our downtown core, related crimes and homelessness being a significant issue, is that time now?
Just this week there was a presentation from DSSAB’s CEO Mike Nadeau to Council. The presentation covered the homelessness issue in Sault Ste. Marie and the significant deficit DSSAB is seeing in funding to address the situation.
Multiple Councillors pointed fingers, stating it’s a provincial issue to provide the funding. According to Luke Dufour, the City already contributes over $3 million in funding directly from the city taxpayer for the issue and it’s not enough.
So lets take a moment to attempt thinking outside the box.
Another project which has seen significant opposition in the community, moving the bus terminal, was projected during Council discussions to be about saving money. In this case just shy of $200,000 was the difference between relocating it on the doorsteps of a major tourist attraction and historical site or keeping it downtown. Now we have learned that the re-routing of the Hub Trail is required at the new location, costing considerably more than the savings mentioned during that Council discussion. In addition, there is a potential for other significant costs to be incurred related to the relocation should it be determined that the intersection of Huron and Bay needs to be restructured to alleviate concerns for the safety of pedestrians, bicycles and automobiles transiting the area.
So why not just simply revert back to renovating the existing downtown terminal and potentially save the “millions” of dollars that may be required to reconstruct the area at Huron/Bay/Queen to accommodate 7-10 40ft buses every 30 minutes? Let’s conservatively estimate that redesign of the intersection and the rerouting of the hub trail to be in the area of $2 million.
Instead of building a Plaza, currently projected to cost $8.4 million dollars, at a time when it is questionable as to who will actually utilize the facility, why not look at spending considerably less to put skating under the Bondar Pavilion? To the best of my knowledge, after talking to many people, this was one of its original intended uses. After all, the seating at the west end could lead one to believe that designers had just this in mind. I did attempt to obtain plans from both the initial construction as well as those from later renovations, but the City stated there are none available from the time.
A splash pad could also be located at the Bondar Pavilion property where there is already parking, other features and infrastructure available. This seems like a much better location if you are looking to further attract tourists and citizens alike, especially since it would be located and visible on our beautiful waterfront. Further development of the Bondar Pavilion property for exactly the same uses could be done for significantly less than the currently chosen Plaza location.
A new fire station, which is in the plans, can be ball-parked at well over $3 million. Essex Ontario just finished construction on a 3-bay rural station for $3.4 million.
So you save roughly $2 million from moving the bus terminal, $4 million from the Plaza budget and at least $3 million more from building a new fire station. That would free up around $9 million at a time where there seems to be a much more dire need for funding.
What could Council do with the $9 million?
Monday’s meeting had many places were $9 million could be spent, but lets talk about arguably the “number one issue” the Mayor and Councillors heard about in our community, Homelessness, Mental Health and Addictions.
A need significant need was identified Monday night by Nadeau.
“There’s a need for up to 60 additional supportive housing units to be added into the community. And when we talk about supportive housing, what we’re talking about is people need support for their health,” stated Nadeau. “They also needs supports with mental health and addictions, they may need to take medication, harm reduction services, cultural services, meals, room cleaning, supportive housing is is something that this community has been trying to get for for many, many years.”
The solution, isn’t cheap.
DSSAB says they have access to private lenders to build such a building, could that $9 million, one time capital investment, show both the community and the other levels of government, we are serious about fixing this issue?
Would it put pressure on the other levels to fund the $60 million it would cost to operate over 20 years? $50,000 a year, per unit, isn’t cheap but what is a person’s life and dignity worth?
If you build that, I believe the community would be much better off, in time. It would be an investment towards returning and further developing our downtown and waterfront area into a hub for both citizens and tourists alike. Then, you could build a signature piece to the better, cleaner, safer downtown.
“If you build it, he will come,” for the sake of the much maligned “legacy project” the City is moving forward with, here is hoping the tourists and citizens do.
I’m Dan Gray and this is how I see it, from behind the lens.