If you have been following this corner over the past couple of weeks, you know there is a divide in the ranks of the Alma College International Alumnae Association as to whether there is merit to replicating the facade of the main building at the former school for girls as part of proposed three-apartment complex.
At issue here is a 2008 Ontario Municipal Board decision that determined any new development on the Moore Street property must recreate the north façade of Alma to a depth of three metres.
The issue is on the agenda for Monday’s (Aug. 13) meeting of city council.
The developer, Michael Loewith of Patriot Properties, has submitted a letter to council outlining his vision for the Alma College property.
Loewith writes, he was intrigued by the OMB order and the opportunity it presented to pursue his two passions, history and development.
He presented an initial basic concept at a public meeting earlier this year and received “tremendous negative backlash from historical and architectural academics and practitioners.”
Loewith advised “It was clear that these professional and academic communities overwhelmingly condemn recreating large-scale buildings with modern materials and the act of such recreation would be highly discouraged and considered an insult to the historical significance of the building and institution.”
Loewith then turned to ERA Heritage Architects – one of the most qualified and respected Canadian architects – to “interpret and articulate the historical significance of Alma within a modern and affordable residential community.”
ERA has worked on such historically significant buildings such as Maple Leaf Gardens, the Royal Ontario Museum, Art Gallery of Ontario, St. Lawrence Market and Toronto’s Distillery District.
ERA responded by noting, “There are many more heritage appropriate and globally accepted methods to honour lost buildings and institutions beyond facadism.”
As such, Loewith is requesting council supports the removal of the OMB order of 2008. Instead, he is seeking to commemorate the heritage of Alma in other forms.
In his report to council, city manager Wendell Graves notes the importance of getting clarification on rescinding the requirement to replace the facade.
As such, Graves is suggesting council seek input from the public and the Municipal Heritage Committee in terms of an alternative development proposal from Patriot Properties.
Graves is recommending a public hearing be held Sept. 4, immediately following the regular council meeting to allow Patriot to make a presentation on their revised development plans and receive comments from the community at large.
Further, council will receive comments from the Municipal Heritage Committee by Sept.10 and then make a determination on Sept. 17 with regard to the existing OMB order.
As there is a holding zone provision currently in place with regard to the 96 Moore Street property, the OMB order would have to be removed before any building permits are issued.
FINANCIAL STATEMENT CASTS RAY OF LIGHT ON UTILITY MERGER
We’re standing by our assertion the St. Thomas Energy/Ascent merger with Entegrus out of Chatham-Kent was simply a fire sale on behalf of the city.
And not of particularly good value for ratepayers at that.
The city has released its 2017 audited financial statement – contained in the agenda package for Monday’s (Aug. 13) council meeting.
You have to delve into it with a fine-tooth comb and, if you do, you will uncover some revealing facts.
As part of the merger agreement, the city agreed to invest in 376 new common shares of Ascent Group Inc. for $12.7 million.
Also in 2017, the city purchased another 118 common shares for $4 million and the city agreed to take ownership of Ascent Energy Services Inc.
Yet that same year, Ascent Energy Services Inc. – a division of Ascent Group – sold their remaining assets and contracts and ceased operations.
Management and the board of directors are working to wind down this corporation.
Another $7.7 million (a promissory note to the city from Ascent) was spent to purchase 227 common shares and a $5.5 million note receivable (money owed the city for collection of water and sewer bills) was converted to 149 common shares of Ascent.
Is this how debt is being written off and where did the money for these purchases come from? Are these taxpayer dollars?
According to the financial statement, Ascent Group owned the city $2.4 million at the end of last year for the billing and collection of water and sewer user charges.
Here’s an interesting footnote.
As of the end of last year, “certain legal actions are pending against the city. The final outcome of the outstanding claims cannot be determined at this time.”
But rest assured as the footnote continues “However, management believes that ultimate disposition of these matters will not materially exceed the amounts recorded in these consolidated financial statements.”
We contacted Wendell Graves Friday (Aug. 10) for answers and clarification and was advised representatives from Entegrus – including former St. Thomas Energy acting CEO Rob Kent – will be at Monday’s meeting of council to review the merger arrangements.
Sure hope Kent can contain his laughter this time around.
In March, on the advice of the city’s finance director David Aristone, we contacted Kent seeking answers to merger questions. What we got were gales of laughter from him and Jim Hogan, Entegrus president and CEO, who was in the same room during our call.
Nothing like laughter to assure concerned ratepayers.
You know, there was a time when St. Thomas Energy paid the city an annual dividend in excess of $1 million.
By the way, if you’re like me and have numerous questions about the utility merger consummated on April 1 of this year, direct them to Mayor Heather Jackson or councillors Linda Stevenson and Gary Clarke.
They sat on one of the Ascent Group’s boards and since they are seeking re-election, a few pointed questions would certainly not be out of order.
After all, somebody has to be held accountable and that is a good place to start.
IS HER FOCUS ON ST. THOMAS OR OTTAWA?
The federal election in question was in 2015, not 2014 as originally noted.
It’s 2011 all over again.
We’ll set the scene for you. Then city councillor Lori Baldwin-Sands takes a leave of absence to represent Elgin-Middlesex-London in the provincial election that year after Steve Peters announced he would not seek re-election.
As this corner observed that October, Baldwin-Sands”was thoroughly thumped by Jeff Yurek, who rode an 8,700-vote lead all the way to Queen’s Park.”
It was Baldwin-Sands who put it best after the final tally, “The leave of absence ends tonight.”
Well, just days before the nomination period closed for this October’s municipal vote, Baldwin-Sands announced she is seeking a return to the council chamber at city hall.
Fair enough, but not only was she humbled in 2011 in the provincial vote, she was humiliated in the 2015 federal vote, so you would think any aspirations of higher office would be off the table.
But no, we have it on good authority Baldwin-Sands may now be gathering signatures seeking the federal nomination once again for the Liberals in next year’s trip to the polls.
Lori, when you go door-knocking, are you letting people know you plan on taking a leave of absence once again should you be re-elected and win the local nomination?
Although the latter seems remote at best.
In clutch situations, teams give the ball to the player who can get the job done.
If you can’t be up front with voters on your intentions, why should they trust their ballot to you on Oct. 22nd?
And how much credibility does that lend to your claim you want to return to the council chamber to focus on job growth and quality of life issues.
Appears you want that win municipally to use as a springboard to Ottawa.
In the process, unfair to the electorate and the rest of the candidates for councillor.
THE READERS WRITE
The proposed development on the site of Alma College has generated passionate feedback over the past couple of weeks.
Heather Erskine Meier, who live in Copenhagen, Denmark, emailed us this week to re-acquaint and offer insight.
She was a student for five years, graduating as Valedictorian in 1961, was active in alumnae affairs, was Dean of Residence in 1988 until the last graduation, and thereafter was appointed CEO and administrator, a position she held until March of 1991.
She writes, “The majority of our members (of the Alma College International Alumnae Association), of which I am one, are absolutely against the imposition of the OMB requirement that a facade of the original Alma be incorporated in the design of any construction on the site.
“We all agree that Alma is gone, never to return but in our memories and perhaps suitable reminders such as plaques and gardens on the site. The fact that the amphitheatre will be restored, with input from the alumnae, is a major bonus and a definite reminder of Alma for the citizens of St. Thomas and the alumnae.
“And very importantly, it removes a requirement that would be extremely expensive, if at all possible with modern materials and workmanship, to duplicate in an appropriate fashion, and would certainly discourage any developer.
“It is high time that the people of St. Thomas had a say in the matter, with the hope of ending a longstanding eyesore, to the benefit of the community.”
And Heather Crockett posted these comments online.
“Thank you for writing these articles from both perspectives. I was at the meeting that Lara (Leitch, former vice-principal of Alma and the former president of the Alma College International Alumnae Association) spoke at and understand the emotions behind the history and the building, but the building is no more. The OMB order was put into place before it burnt down. The city is not trying to ‘skirt around this.’ The fact is things have changed, a piece of land is sitting there with potential and if we want to see the city develop and grow and start new history we need to move forward.” Crockett continues, “the developers want to honour the history by keeping the amphitheatre, adding in memorial items such as plaques and park space. As sad as it is to say, many of these alumnae are no longer in St. Thomas or will have passed away before history is made new on this property. I’m sure if I went out today, I’d be able to match and exceed the numbers on a petition to move forward and build new ‘history.’
“I hope the OMB order is dropped and we see new life grow at this property.”
Questions and comments may be emailed to: City Scope
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