A topic that comes up frequently when knocking on doors – particularly on the East side of the 12 Mile Creek – is the topic of redevelopment of the GM lands on Ontario St.
Several years ago, City Council had the opportunity to make redevelopment a little bit easier, by opening up the Official Plan designation for the lands to allow for study of uses other than the Industrial zoning that exists there now. While Council chose not to do this, I was in firm support of changing the designation to make redevelopment easier, and remain in favour today.
We are now seeing, however, that even though Council allowed this roadblock to remain, a developer has approached GM to buy the lands, and is in the final stages of acquiring the property. The company has a great deal of experience in developing old Brownfield (environmentally damaged) sites and rehabilitating them, which can only be seen as good news. Reports indicate that their plans for the redevelopment involve a variety of uses, which is a plus from the point of view of the mixed uses that exist in and around that corridor. And at the end of the day, Ontario St. is an access point from the QEW into our now redeveloping downtown; we need a gateway that shows the way forward for St. Catharines, not the way backwards.
So it is incumbent on the next City Council to ensure that roadblocks to this redevelopment are removed. Let residents provide input into the process, and then ensure that City Hall stays out of the way of the developer as it works with the community to make those acres of prime land in our city centre vibrant again. This redevelopment has been a long time in coming; we need to make sure the process moves forward quickly, while ensuring due diligence, so that residents can drive down an Ontario St. to downtown that befits the direction our community is headed.
For the last several years, Council has focused on the large infrastructure projects that are currently coming online in downtown St. Catharines. As these projects get up and running, the time has come for Council to shift its focus to other areas; specifically, the downtown retail sector.
The retail sector on and around St. Paul St. has been hurting for a very long time. With the advent of shopping malls and miles and miles of ‘free’ parking, it has been hard to rally people to head downtown to do any shopping. Over the last several years, the Downtown Association has tried in a few areas to increase the visibility of downtown retailers, but the success has been mixed. I believe it is incumbent on the next group of City Councillors to move Economic Development to create a retail strategy for downtown St. Catharines that augments and expands the work that is being done by the DTA to promote downtown retail.
Our desire for a walkable, livable downtown encompasses several components; with increased residential properties, new entertainment venues and more public realm improvements, we are on our way towards this goal. But increased retail activity is also a necessity – a part of the concept that mixed use is usually the best use for any space – and there are ways for us to move in this direction. What it requires is concerted effort on our part as City Council. While the hope for the retail vibrancy of the early part of the last century is unreasonable, there does exist an opportunity for niche retailers to take advantage of the renewed focus on downtown. It is our job, as City Councillors, to encourage those entrepreneurs willing to take the plunge.
St. Catharines has made some important infrastructure upgrades over the last several years. As one of the St. Patrick’s Ward City Councillors, I have voted for the vast majority of these upgrades; I believe they are necessary to the overall growth of our community. With these spending measures in place, though, I believe we need to find different ways to fund the debt and keep our community growing.
My commitment to hold the line on taxes stems from this – while I recognize the need to pay for the services we currently have, I believe there are ways to find efficiencies in how our city government operates. At a recent Council meeting, our CAO Dan Carnegie presented a number of ways to cut up to 2 million dollars from the Operating Budget over the next 3 years. This was done through a process of finding and making incremental improvements to how the different departments work. His report only dealt with a small subsection of City departments; if rolled out over the entire organization, I believe that there are more savings to be found, and passed on to taxpayers.
In addition to this, the City has recently undergone the development of a new Asset Management plan. In the past, the City’s understanding of the buildings it owned and the costs associated with keeping and maintaining those buildings were not understood. With the creation of this plan, Councillors and Staff will begin to understand where the biggest costs are, and how to mitigate them. It also presents an opportunity for Council to sell off assets that are not being used effectively by the City, so that private investors can take on the costs associated with running those buildings. The belief is that those private owners can also find more productive uses for those spaces.
Going through this process will allow the City to get rid of assets that it no longer needs, and can’t afford to maintain; another opportunity to take some costs off the books.
We need to look at City government differently than we have in the past; there are opportunities to find savings that can be passed on to taxpayers, and ways to provide services and run buildings that can lead to long term benefits to St. Catharines. The next Council needs to be willing to look for those new solutions, and follow the lead of communities that have already taken some of these steps.
I sincerely hope the voters of St. Patrick’s Ward return me to Council so that I can pursue these new ideas.
My commitment to you:
Over the last several years, we’ve made several important infrastructure investments. While I’ve always believed most of these investments were necessary, I also believe that we must find a way to create savings on the Operating side of the City’s ledger. Going forward, I commit to working to both find those savings, and convince Council that the time has come to hold the line on taxes, and offer some relief to taxpayers.
- Make your priorities the city’s priorities
Too often, residents become frustrated with the goings on at City Hall. There is a belief that the real concerns of residents are being ignored for the sake of one group’s pet project. I commit to listening to the residents of St. Patrick’s ward, and ensuring that your voices are heard at the Council table so that the priorities you believe are the most important to the city are the priorities that are moved forward.
- Fix communication at City Hall
Many residents have grown frustrated with the communication, or lack thereof, coming from City Hall. In the past term of Council, I held monthly Ward meetings for concerned residents to speak to me directly. I will continue this practice in the future, and will look to new avenues to get the message out to residents.