Market study recommends more retail in downtown core; revitalization of Elgin Mall

city_scope_logo-cmykIn the period 2000 to 2015, St. Thomas experienced an almost three-fold increase in vacant commercial retail space. That’s one of the key findings in a 2015 retail market study to be presented to council Monday.
The study, undertaken by Dillon Consulting and W. Scott Morgan & Associates, sought to “analyse the ability of the city’s commercial policy framework to support the health of its retail market, while identifying the evolving retail market trends that may affect St. Thomas.”
The city has 2.46 million square feet of retail commercial space – an increase of 15 per cent since 2007 – but in that total, 313,000 square feet is vacant, up from 114,000 in the year 2000.

retail market studyjpgThe increase in retail commercial space is negatively impacted by “an aging population, decreases in household size, declines in per capita household incomes, closure of the Zellers department store space in Elgin Mall, and increased competition from London and elsewhere, particularly in the apparel and accessories, home furnishings, and most non-department store non-food store retail categories where gaps still exist in the provision of such space in St. Thomas.
The authors of the study made six recommendations:
  • Build on the city’s existing commercial structure
  • Update retail commercial trends and other contextual information in the OP (official plan) policies
  • Focus retail investment in the downtown core commercial district
  • Encourage revitalization of the Elgin Mall
  • Leverage the City’s existing assets
  • Improve pedestrian connections in the downtown and to key destinations
They also advised the city to encourage residential development within the Talbot West area while discouraging “auto-oriented uses” and review design guidelines and incentives for the west end of Talbot Street in its Community Improvement Plan.
Furthermore, the site of the current police HQ should be redeveloped for “community use including active and passive recreational uses.”
With new ownership of Elgin Mall (brothers Jay and Mory Burstein), the authors elgin-malljpgencourage the city to “work with the landowner . . . to identify a preferred long-term vision to revitalize the site. The revitalization of the site should maintain a retail and service commercial function to support surrounding residential community, while considering mixed use redevelopment opportunities.”
Pat Keenan, the city’s director of planning and building services is recommending council endorse the retail market study and authorize staff to prepare draft amendments to the city plan and zoning bylaws based on the recommendations.
With no code of conduct in place for city parks and facilities, council will receive a report Monday from Gary Drouin, supervisor of recreational facilities, outlining the expected behaviour for permit users, program participants and visitors.

Athletic Park in St. Thomas

The proposed code is short on specifics but, according to the report, it is intended to ensure “players and participants share a common basis of acceptable conduct.” The report goes on to note, “there may be consequence if inappropriate behaviour is demonstrated and the policy is not adhered to.”

A copy of the code of conduct statement is to be posted in all parks and recreation facilities advising the city promotes “a safe, welcoming, positive, inclusive environment where people are valued and respected. Staff, volunteers, participants and park and facility users are expected to be considerate, polite, respect others and their rights . . . and adhere to parks and recreation rules (i.e. alcohol and smoking).
According to the report, the code of conduct is to be monitored by parks and recreation staff.
Watching to see how city personnel will ensure participants and spectators are considerate and polite during some of the highly charged soccer matches – involving teams from all age brackets – played at Cowan and Athletic Park. Referees and coaches are hard pressed at times to keep matters under control.
Posting a code is good policy, enforcing it . . . an entirely different ball game.
Oh that Deb Matthews. The Deputy Premier got us again.
Back in 2014, she and then minister of transportation Glen Murray attended a Chamber of Commerce meeting in London where they rolled out details of a planned high-speed rail link connecting SW Ontario with Toronto. 
London needs high-speed rail, asserted Murray. We need to build the 21st century National Dream, he continued. It would take eight years to build and come with a price tag of $2-3 billion dollars, he patiently explained, while pooh-poohing the notion this was just another campaign promise. 
In December of that year, Matthews went a step further when the province announced it would begin the environmental assessment for the line.
“This is a real game-changer for London,” enthused Matthews. “We’ll actually be getting closer to Toronto than further away.”
And area residents took that to mean we would actually get high-speed rail service to Toronto.
Fast forward to last week when the same Matthews, at a meeting with members of London city council, pronounced “We never said we would build high-speed rail. We promised we would do the homework.”
All together now, let’s take our right hand and slap the side of our head. D’oh. We thought you meant we would get high-speed rail service to Toronto.
We should have paid more attention to our MPP Jeff Yurek who, in 2014 warned, “They’ve not done a business case . . . I don’t think it’ll go anywhere after an election . . . So my question is, was this a real promise to the people of our area or is it in fact just trying to buy some votes.” 
Deb Matthews at STEGH 2011jpg

Deb Matthews at St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital in 2011

It’s not the first time Matthews has done a number on us. How about the fall of 2011 at St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital, literally moments before that year’s provincial vote. She promised a deluxe redevelopment project for the hospital, estimated cost around $130 million.

And, for heaven’s sake, no it is not a promise geared to the pending trip to the polls, stressed Matthews. Politically transparent, she called it, in spite of the timing.
However, when Liberal candidate Lori Baldwin-Sands was soundly trounced in the vote by Yurek, word came down from on high the project was now subject to a re-scoping process, whatever that may be.
A scaled-down compact version in the $60 to $70 million range emerged from the re-scoping.
Newly elected Yurek voiced concerns about how much the community must contribute to the hospital redevelopment fund – 10 per cent – and sought a meeting with Matthews.
Who shot back it’s time Yurek got on board with the project, adding “I know his party would not be building it.”
Well look whose party apparently is not building a high-speed rail line for SW Ontario.
Related posts:
Herb WarrenjpgHerb Warren is chairman of a volunteer committee seeking to establish a War Memorial Park to “recognize the sacrifice of so many from St. Thomas and Elgin county made during the many conflicts of the last 100 years plus.
Their proposal entails consolidating all of the city’s war memorials in one downtown location, west of the BX Tower, off Moore Street. This would include the First World War soldier in front of St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital and the Second World War and Korean War memorial at Princess Avenue.
The committee has submitted a list of suggested names for the park for council’s consideration Monday. The three names are:
  • Veterans Memorial Garden
  • Remembrance Place
  • War Memorial Garden 
Related Post:
Anxious to get more details on the city’s proposed north-end recreation complex? A public information session will be held May 9, from 5 to 7 p.m. to garner input on the St. Thomas Outdoor Recreation Complex to be situated at 355 Burwell Road. The info session will be held in the community room at Valleview Home, located across from the site.
Some people, when they retire, they spend much of their time with a fishing line. Well Charlie Lewis – long know as the bus guy in St. Thomas – has greater aspirations.
At one time he operated Lewis Bus Lines which, in the 1980s and 90s, was the transit contractor for the city in addition to providing a school bus service.  
He owns the yard on Gaylord Avenue where First Student maintains their fleet of school buses. He is now seeking permission from the city to sever a lot on Edward Street for a proposed fish processing facility. The rear of the property would continue as a school bus yard. 
A public meeting will be held 10 a.m. on April 27 in Room 309 at city hall to consider the application.
Questions and comments may be emailed to: City Scope

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