A $100 million green light shines for St. Thomas

Sitting through yesterday’s announcement finalizing the location of the new, consolidated court facility for St. Thomas and Elgin, it was, quite honestly, difficult to grasp the enormity of this long-
awaited undertaking.
And, the historical significance of this project that, quite
literally, is a process begun decades ago.
While short on facts and figures detailing the modern and accessible consolidated courthouse that will incorporate the current facility on Wellington Street (older than Canada itself) into its design, the price tag being bandied about is in the neighbourhood of $100 million.
That’s right … $100 million for what surely is the biggest
government investment ever in this area.

You can appreciate now why the scope of this partnership for the future lingers long after the initial euphoria Friday morning under
the courthouse dome.
As Attorney General Chris Bentley noted, “justice is the heart and soul of every community,” and this city, caught in the crosshairs of the manufacturing meltdown, is in dire need of a heaping dose of optimism.
Friday’s life line, an economic vote of confidence for St. Thomas,
not to mention a reaffirmation of this city’s heritage, is not just
the culmination of years of unwavering toil on the part of MPP Steve Peters.
Instead, thanks to his tenacity, we have been afforded the
opportunity to reinforce the role of this community as the seat of justice for Elgin well into the future.
“Without the unswerving determination of Steve Peters, started
decades ago, we wouldn’t be here today,” praised Bentley.
“I look at this as a seed I tried to nurture a long time ago that
didn’t seem to sprout and now we’ve got the seed planted in the
ground and a commitment to the long term,” Peters told City Scope afterwards.
A shovel likely won’t strike the ground until the spring of 2011,
with a completion date perhaps four years beyond that, as he cautioned.
“We’re still not done. There’s a lot of work that needs to be
done, but it’s so rewarding to see the green light was given to
build a new facility on the site and the subsequent announcements that the city will make regarding parking and dealing with some of those other issues. The city worked really closely to make sure this would be a reality.”
And while this corner has locked horns with Mayor Cliff Barwick in the past, he deserves full credit for a masterful job handling Friday’s announcement and his efforts leading up to the issuance of the green light.
“I had to convince the province if you are sincere about heritage, here’s the opportunity to show it,” Barwick advised. “They bit on that hook and we’ve had splendid cooperation.”
He echoed Peters’ advisory this will not be a quick-to-completion
“There will be due diligence done by Ontario Realty Corporation and that will take time. That’s undergoing right now. There are other issues too, and that’s why it’s going to take so long.”
But, well worth the wait, Barwick teased.
“If you see the plans, this is going to be a huge building. I’ve
seen a projection. They’re going to preserve the registry office.
The northeast corner of the property will be relatively untouched.
The west end of the property will change dramatically. We want to make sure the dominant feature is the dome, it is the courthouse.
“I really am excited. The projection may exceed $90 million. It’s
great to be a part of history, but more than that, we have preserved a building older than Canada.”
A successful preservation, sparked by the demise of Alma College,
Peters explained.
“When we lost Alma, this building just became that much more
important. We had to ramp up our efforts to make sure we did not lose this. Alma was a motivating factor for me to work twice as hard ensuring this site would be the preferred site.”
While the large gathering in attendance Friday on Wellington Street savoured the news, it left a bittersweet taste in the mouth of Shmuel Farhi, owner of the Elgin County Courthouse.
After the sale of the property is completed, the London developer
will have no say in what transpires during the transformation of the building he so loves.
“They’re (the province) going to buy it and move on to the next
stage. I’m very happy we’ve arrived to this day where you see this building is getting another life. Unfortunately, I was hoping to do the development.
“I am very proud of the people of St. Thomas who vigorously fought to keep this building alive. It’s going to mean tens of millions of dollars coming through here and St. Thomas needs every good job, so this is a blessing.”
We’ll leave the last word to Shmuel Farhi, never known to be short on passion.
“This building will probably be the nicest courthouse in the
province, ever.”
The efforts of the above individuals will ensure that.
“This building I used to mention was my first-born child. This is the second phase of life for this building and that’s what it’s
all about. It’s a very important building in my life. It was a
symbol of my company, so I guess I’m going to have to spend a few shekels to change it now.”

London developer Shmuel Farhi concedes with the sale of his Wellington Street courthouse, the hunt will begin for a new corporate identity for Farhi Holdings Corp.

City Scope appears every Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be e-mailed to: mccallum@stthomastimesjournal.com.

2 thoughts on “A $100 million green light shines for St. Thomas


    Great news and lots of deserved praise for Steve Peters. The person that most people associate with tireless effort to save the courthouse was Bob de la Penotiere and I’m sure he’s smiling down on us.

    The “Save the Courthouse” crusade served to remind us that one person can make a difference and it was nice to see some recognition of Bob and Ethel’s efforts in Kyle Rea’s article in today’s T-J.

    Bill Sandison


  2. Bill:

    You are absolutely right. Bob and those associated with the save the courthouse campaign deserve much credit, and they were recognized Friday during the announcement. Good to see his wife Ethel on hand for the occasion. Ian


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