St. Thomas developer states the obvious: ‘You’ve got to have people downtown’

city_scope_logo-cmykIt will be a game-changer for the revitalization of the downtown core. An apartment complex proposed for the three-acre parcel of land at the southeast corner of Ross and Talbot streets that one of the partners in the deal calls “a nice lot that would make for good housing.”
In May of 2015, Bob and Don McCaig purchased the vacant parcel of land at 672 Talbot Street from Infrastructure Ontario for $750,000, well below the asking price of $1.1 million. 
Previously the site of a car dealership and the YMCA prior to that, the land had been purchased by the province as a possible location for the consolidated Elgin County Courthouse.
Speaking with Bob McCaig on Friday, he is proposing to erect a pair of apartment buildings in two phases.

The first phase would entail construction of a six-storey structure with approximately 100 units at the south end of the property, explained McCaig who advised, “I’m not part of the approval team, I was just part of the idea.”
McCaig Talbot Street propertyjpg

The vacant lot at 672 Talbot Street with the CASO station in the background.

He added. “It would be a place where you would get traffic and action. You put a high-rise there or a six- or seven-storey low-rise and everyone from the second floor up is going to see what’s going on.”

He is suggesting rents would be in the range of $1,600 per month.
“I would like to see a building there but the numbers are very difficult to make work,” advised McCaig. “I would like it to work but it’s not going to be easy.”
Should the first building prove popular, McCaig said Phase 2 would see construction of a second unit closer to Talbot Street with commercial development incorporated into the first two floors.
“This would be great for the revitalization of the centre of town,” enthused McCaig. “If you want to have businesses downtown, you’ve got to have people downtown. This will bring several hundred people to the core. They’re going to want to have places to eat and places to shop. It will be like another Millcreek Place.”
McCaig was referring to his apartment development at 20 Dunkirk Drive.
“I think it’s well worth doing. And if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.”
The proposal will come before the city’s site plan control committee on Thursday.
The centrepiece of the two-lane Gateway Roundabout, now under construction at the intersection of Wellington Road, Sunset Drive and Talbot Street, will be a 3-D curved and tapered sculpture of a train.
gateway roundabout sculpturejpgAn installation one member of council described as “a signature piece of artwork.” 
At the May 15 meeting, council was presented with four options for the centre island of the new road layout: landscaping; a steel sculpture; purchase of an old diesel locomotive from Port Stanley Terminal Rail; or purchase of a privately owned steam locomotive.
The mayor and councillors were unanimous in their choice of local blacksmith and artist Scott McKay’s sculpture to be crafted from 25 tonnes of corrosion-resistant Corten steel, at a cost of $186,000.
“The problem with landscaping,” opined Coun. Gary Clarke, “is the ongoing maintenance. This is an investment well worth making. It is maintenance free and progressive. A signature piece of artwork.”
“It gives us that bang,” added Mayor Heather Jackson. “I think it’s fantastic.”
Music to the ears of McKay, who was seated in the gallery.
“I was very thrilled. It looked good on paper in the agenda. But you never know what’s going to happen. You’ve got different people (on council) with different ideas so you just never know what’s going to happen. I’m glad it worked out well.”  
Scott McKayjpgHis undertaking will be comprised of a steam locomotive and tender, a passenger car and caboose. The size of the “train” increases from six feet at the caboose end to 18 feet at the locomotive, including the raised railway track. Total length of the piece is 69 feet.
Ironically, two other pieces of McKay’s  “big, heavy, muscular and colourful pieces of art” will be installed this summer atop the St. Thomas Elevated Park, within sight of the roundabout.
McKay confirmed this sculpture will be his largest art installation to date.
“As far as an art project, absolutely. These big art projects need to be treated as a construction project.”
It will require a team effort, stressed McKay, who draws upon experience from earlier chapters in his life for his pieces. 
“I worked for Suncor in Fort McMurray and three different diamond mines in Canada’s north. I’ve always liked the industrial look and industrial architecture.  The strength of it and I find it naturally blends into my work because I’m an old millwright from years ago. I find using similar material builds a lot of strength into the piece. Not only physically but aesthetically as well.”
He’s already begun assembling the team for the roundabout sculpture.
“I have a couple of contractors lined up. I’ll get a sandblasting contractor to take care of that and I’ll probably hire a couple of welders, there’s a lot of welding day after day.”
Although the sculpture incorporates a steam engine, McKay stressed this work is about looking down the line at the future.
“It’s important to embrace the history, but it’s also important to look to the future. To look at St. Thomas as a cultural element too, not just tied in as the industrial past.”  
The sculpture will be constructed in pieces and then assembled at the roundabout site, explained McKay.
“The locomotive is 28 feet long itself. I’ll hire a transportation company to bring it the site. The biggest challenge will be the locomotive. Everything else is kind of standard size.” 
He is aiming for a Dec. 1 completion date.
“I used to work in Yellowknife, there’s no bad weather down here. Snow doesn’t matter. The foundations will be in. I will be working above ground. 
“When I worked up in the mines, the coldest day I ever worked it was minus 53 and that was without the wind. You’re dressed up like an astronaut and not much gets done.”
McKay admitted up until now, he has stressed his industrial background when promoting his artistic talents “so people know they’re not dealing with the classic flaky artist. I can put something together like it was a construction project. And that’s the way they should be treated.”
With the installation of his latest creations, the beauty of his art may now take priority over industrial strength.
And how does McKay plan to top his Gateway Roundabout sculpture?
“We’ll focus on that in December,” he laughed.
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Still with the roundabout, Phase 1 of the project was to be completed this weekend and Phase 2 will entail construction of the south leg of Sunset Drive leading to Port Stanley.
gateway phase 2jpgThis means the Talbot Street hill will reopen to traffic and that will be the route required to continue south on Sunset Drive. The detour will involve Talbot Hill, Stanley Street, Old Talbot Street back to Sunset Drive.
Gateway Phase 2 Detour RoutesWellington Road will remain closed with George Street continuing as the detour route.
According to city staff, the undertaking is still on track for completion before the end of June.
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Could we possibly be entering the closing chapters of the Sutherland Saga? Are the hostages soon to be released?
Earlier this month, city manager Wendell Graves advised council a panel of three appeal court justices ruled in the city’s favour, in that a lower court erred in its determination last September that a notice issued in March of 2016 warning of demolition of the Sutherland Press building for failure to comply with a previous work order was null and void.
sutherland-press-drone-viewOn Sept. 27 of last year, Justice Kelly Gorman ruled the notice from the city to building owner David McGee was improperly delivered and lacked specificity.
The city’s appeal was heard April 12 at Osgoode Hall in Toronto.
Well, both parties are back in the Elgin County Courthouse on Wednesday at which time McGee and his lawyer Valerie M’Garry will challenge an unsafe building order issued by the city Oct. 28 that gave him until Dec. 15 of last year to provide a detailed work plan and schedule repairs to have commenced in January of this year.
That work order covers remedial brick work and securing the roof.
Would a decision favourable to the city trigger remediation or demolition of the four-storey structure dating back to 1913?
Or another date in appeal court?
Bob McCaig has an interesting proposal for the city.
“The city should buy it, tear it down and make it a green space across from the Veterans Memorial Garden.”
That’s the proposed new war memorial to be located on Moore Street, between Talbot and Centre streets.
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One thought on “St. Thomas developer states the obvious: ‘You’ve got to have people downtown’

  1. No one is going to pay $1600 a month to live downtown


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