A United Way of Niagara?

Given the first meeting of the Governance Committee for the new year happening shortly, I thought this was an interesting article; a more united and regionalized United Way.  Not a bad way to stretch dollars farther and still serve the citizens and charities of the Niagara Peninsula.

Along with the vote to merge the local Chambers of Commerce, a sign of things to come for the Region . . . ?

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Notes on a downtown co-op and Regional Transit

A couple of interesting stories in today’s Standard.

The first is a follow-up story about Our Community Food Store and their quest to put a co-op grocery store somewhere in the downtown of St. Catharines.  The thrust of the article focuses on the success of the Lexington Cooperative Market in Buffalo.  It was unfortunate to read some pessimism in the article, but overall it seems people are pretty optimistic and very supportive of the idea.  The truth is we’ve done a disservice to downtown residents by allowing the core to deteriorate to the point where there is no grocery option left, but the city is moving in the right direction now.  We’re getting to a point where residential occupation downtown will hit critical mass, and when that happens I think those amenities we need will be there.

The other article I wanted to highlight was regarding Regional Transit – numbers are in, and show a steady increase in ridership (although not where it was hoped).  The biggest drawback, as far as I can see (and I use the service) is the cost.  $5 moving to $6 does not make sense.  If I have to get to work on a daily basis, $200-$240 a month just simply doesn’t make it affordable for me to get rid of my car.  The Region needs to roll out some affordable fare options like monthly passes.

Co-op grocery store opportunity in downtown St. Catharines

An interesting budget meeting last night, where the Grants committee approved recommending to Council that Our Community Food Store be given a $2500 grant to help in putting together a market study on the viability of a co-op in the downtown core.

I think the goals of this group are good, and like Councillor Elliott I support the idea of a grocery option downtown.  I think the Co-op group is being prudent in conducting the market study before putting together their business plan, and lost in a lot of the conversation is the fact that even they don’t really know what form this venture may take.  While they have been very optimistic about timelines and ideas for the business, they have also been quite realistic in conversations with Councillors.  They know that market conditions will dictate what direction the project moves in.

The bottom-line, however, is that if we really want a Residential revitalization in the downtown, amenities like grocery will have to exist sooner or later.  I give a lot of credit to this group of residents for taking these important first steps.

Beating a path towards the new Spectator Facility in St. Catharines

Great article in the Standard about David Oakes (Director of Economic Development) And Rick Lane (Director of Recreation and Community Services) making their away across Southern Ontario to the new Spectator Facilities that have been built in the last 10-15 years.  A lot of communities have made their way down this path – it’s good to see our Senior Management out there early in the process making sure we learn from the mistakes of other cities.

Big seats in the new arena

I give Doug Herod credit where credit is due – he does write a funny column, and his ability to focus on the minutiae is second to none and always results in an interesting column.  Thankfully, I’ve managed to generally escape his wrath.  I do not expect that record to hold up indefinitely.

All that said, todays column is an interesting and you should head over to read it.  I didn’t think he’d be able to resist talking about the Spectator Facility, so it’s good to see the blackout is over.  Keeps us on our toes.

In other SCStandard news – a great article about Mahtay Cafe and the very different and awesome vibe going on in that new business on St. Paul – if you haven’t yet, check it out (maybe take advantage of the free parking in the Carlisle St. garage) – and Bowling for Big Brothers and Big Sisters is coming up in February – I had a great time last year, even with my atrocious bowling skills.  Greg Washuta is the Councillor to have on your team – I am sincerely hoping he’s on mine again this year.

Adding students to Regional Transit

I will admit to being frustrated by this piece of news.

Regional Council has a Regional Transit Service for a reason – to provide a transportation solution that has not previously existed within the Region, for those residents who for one reason or another do not have a car or drive.  The point of the pilot project was to see what sort of demand there was for a service like this; identify what may turn out to be a new revenue source.  This takes time – transit is truly a ‘build it and they will come’ situation, because to convince people to give up their cars and take the bus, you have to have some guarantee that the service wills till be there in 6 months.

The point of the project was NOT to take existing ridership away from the three existing municipal transit providers.  The Niagara Falls, Welland and St. Catharines Transit properties have pre-existing agreements in place with Brock and Niagara College to provide the transit services that those student unions desire to pay for, and the system (at least from a St. Catharines standpoint) has worked well.  St. Catharines Transit has responded to increased demand for service, most recently by buying articulated buses to accomodate the ever-growing number of students.  Apparently the other properties are responding to increased demand as well – Mayor Diodati of NF indicated in the article that Niagara Falls is trying to alleviate some of the pressure as well through new capital investments.

By allowing students to ride the Regional Transit buses for free, the Region has done several things: 1) they’ve bowed to political pressure to make the buses look fuller, even though there will be zero increase in revenue and the project will cost exactly the same amount to the taxpayer as it would have if there were no students on the bus; 2) they’ve circumvented the agreement they had with the 3 municipal transit properties to negotiate changes to the agreement by acting unilaterally; and 3) they’ve created difficulties for the Transit authorities as they negotiate with students in the future.

All of this, and the pilot project now will work far less effectively.  Will the Region count the students as part of their ridership numbers?  And if they do, then how exactly will this pilot project accomplish its goals?  I will echo Mayor McMullan – all you’re doing is shuffling the deck on existing revenue sources, when the goal was supposed to be to (potentially) uncover NEW revenue sources.

And all in the name of making the project more politically palatable.  Given that making the buses look fuller is the only real goal of this move, I ask this question – why charge anything for this service?  Why not let all of the other monthly pass users of the 3 municipal transit systems (who pay considerably more than the students do – between 2.5x and 4x more in fact, according to the article) ride for free as well?

This decision is a mistake.  It’s unfortunate that what could have been a useful pilot project has been twisted because of short-sighted political pressure.

A whole lot of St. Catharines news in a few days

Wow – a reminder that with school coming back into session, time starts to run out a little easier.

Lots of good news over the last few days:

Seven projects that will remake St. Catharines – a rundown of all the amazing things happening in St. Catharines over the next year – buildings opening, ground-breaking happening – it’s an important time in the city’s history.

Free parking for January as Carlisle St. garage opens – one of those big project, the Carlisle St. parking garage, opened on Monday to pretty positive reviews.  It’s a few months behind schedule, and it’s still not completely finished yet, but it’s there and it’s operational for downtown venturers.  Take a chance to check it out and have a wander down St. Paul St.

Council votes to retain recorded votes – near and dear to my heart (although Marlene Bergsma DID call me the St. Andrew’s Councillor in the article), Council voted to keep recorded votes on deferral motions.  While some may regard this as pretty trifling, I’m glad we kept it in there.  As I said at Council – taking away a recorded vote reduces transparency, and takes away a tool for residents to judge their Councillors by.  I can’t think of any case where that’s a good idea.

Downtown to be wired with surveillance cameras – a good initiative by the NRP, and part of the recommendations from the original Downtown Licensed Establishment Committee.  No one thinks this is the be-all end-all of the situation downtown, but it’s a tool that can be used by police to help prosecute crime.  I haven’t heard any good reason why it shouldn’t be done, but a lot of good reasons why it should.  The best reason, as far as I’m concerned, is that it might help residents fight the impression that downtown is dangerous.  It’s not, and I have plenty of recent experience to back that statement up.

Up to $18.9 million in funding for manufacturers – just a plain old good news story for small and medium businesses in the Region.  Any help is good help when it comes to our manufacturing base.

Lots of news, all of it positive for the city and downtown.  It’s not always like that – so I’ll take it where I can get it.