As Canada’s first elevated park, it is already an ambitious undertaking. However, at a ceremony held Thursday (Nov. 22) at the CASO station, a bold new step forward in the design of the St. Thomas Elevated Park was unveiled. An enhanced vision that could see the entire length of the Michigan Central Railway bridge open to the public next summer.
This week’s event formalized a $100,000 investment by Doug Tarry Homes Ltd., along with a commitment to reach out to the region’s business community with a Doug Tarry Challenge, a fundraising campaign by the St. Thomas homebuilder.
The Doug Tarry Homes End-To-End Challenge has a goal of raising $500,000, which is enough to construct and install the remaining railings and decks required to span the entire bridge, end to end.
“The generous donation by Doug Tarry Homes gave us a unique opportunity to rethink our original plans and set a more ambitious timetable for opening,” says Matt Janes, vice-president of the On Track St. Thomas board of directors and a co-chair of the Doug Tarry Challenge.
The St. Thomas Elevated Park is an undertaking of On Track St. Thomas, a member of the Railworks Coalition.
In a media release, Janes continues “After a year of watching people enjoy the portion of the park that is currently open, we decided that overall vision could be even more ambitious and allow for even more uses.”
In a lengthy conversation with On Track St. Thomas director Serge Lavoie prior to Thursday’s event, he explains the rationale behind Tarry’s end-to-end challenge.
“He just said let’s put some money into this so you can finish it all in one fell swoop . . . we put the railings up to the end and we also have one good eight-foot wide walking and cycling trail all the way across, maybe in concrete, maybe in wood, so the whole thing becomes a walkable right-of-away.
Lavoie continues, “And then using the money that we collect from others, we will start adding the features. So we’ll have the backbone of it done and it’ll be walkable from one end to the other by the middle of next year.”
The individual design elements of the park began to evolve with the installation of the Kinsmen Sun Shade which, literally, shone a new light on the structure.
“The kids have been enjoying the sunshade and we used it during the picnic this year as a band shell,” notes Lavoie. “It just dawned on us, this is actually a really interesting space. But rather than make it a boardwalk, why don’t we put grass in here.
“So that got the ball rolling in our minds. We thought this next section won’t be a boardwalk. It will be grass. There would be a band shell there, but a sun shelter as well, and we’ve got some lovely planters up there already with honey locust trees. So this could be our public square area.”
As always, one thing just led to another.
“Well, what else could we do? We should have a kids’ play area. So we put some ideas together around that. And that seems very doable. And then we also thought, we need some water up here. And we have a plan for doing irrigation. But if we’re going to bring the water up from Kettle Creek anyhow, to do irrigation, why not create a pond up there, a water feature?”
Lavoie continues, “And then finally, we said, the other thing we need to do is to find a way to reintroduce some of the railway elements and somebody has donated some rail to us and we can get our hands on some ties so we could reintroduce rail and ties but inside the landscaping. It would remind people this is a real bridge.”
And so, the enhanced concept will incorporate separate zones along the length of the park with changes in colours, textures, materials and uses.
The zones would include the Eastern Approach to the park from King Street in St. Thomas; the first 210 feet with public art and flower beds is The Boardwalk; the Kinsmen Sun Shade becomes The Greens with a grassy area; creation of a Play Zone for children with interactive structures; a Water Zone directly over Kettle Creek with water pumped up from the source; and the Western Boardwalk, incorporating railway features.
And finally, what would be known as the Western Approach, stretching from the west end of the bridge to Lyle Road – approximately three kilometres – a rail trail with a small parking area at the roadway.
An application has been made to re-route the Trans-Canada Trail along this approach and across the elevated park, to reconnect with the original route on Centre Street.
So the plan for next year is to install the railing system along the entire 855-foot length of the bridge and put in place a continuous hard surface walking/cycling path, making the park walkable for its entire stretch of the MCR bridge.
“Because every time they drive under the bridge, they see stuff. They see trees, they see the sun shelter, they see the big weather vane.”
As funds allow, the additional landscaping and features will be added and the Western Approach completed.
It’s an evolving, living plan, stresses Lavoie,
“And it certainly has changed several times since going way back to the initial concept of this. But I think that’s what develops the park into something that’s a little more living.
“We started off with a pretty modest plan,” reminds Lavoie, “because we just didn’t know how the community would respond to the idea of an elevated park. But with the community support we’ve been getting financially, plus the number of visitors that we’re getting, especially during the summer, we get tourists from everywhere all the time, we now know that we’ve got a winning formula here.
“So we’re really confident that the community will back us on this new vision because they already see the value of what we put up there. We’ve only got a quarter of the bridge done. And yet people are coming up there all the time, bringing visitors. So we’re really confident now that we can get a lot more cutting edge in our thinking and introduce some really cool ideas.”
From a personal perspective, we asked Lavoie what he feels as the park continually evolves high overhead.
“I go out of my way, almost every day, to drive under the bridge. Yeah, just for the hell of it. And I love looking up at the structures and people are really talking about it now. Because every time they drive under the bridge, they see stuff. They see trees, they see the sun shelter, they see the big weather vane.
“People now know there’s something happening up there.”
THERE’S A BUBBLE COMING THROUGH
At the close of out-going mayor Heather Jackson’s farewell address Monday (Nov. 19), city manager made reference to a significant number of municipal employees potentially eligible for retirement in the near future.
That figure is in the range of 90 employees over all departments, so we talked this week with city manager Wendell Graves for elaboration.
Graves confirms the number and the fact this could transpire over a three-year period.
So, what does the city have in place in the way of a succession plan?
“We have been following this,” notes Graves, “and you will see this go through the budget process. We want to formalize that so there are funds in there to help adjust to that.”
As to the pension impact, Graves explains “Municipal employees generally have the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System plan (OMERS) . . . so there is no impact for people retiring.”
Graves adds the city has not struck a succession planning committee at this stage.
“We haven’t gotten that far yet. It’s not just this municipality. Everybody is in the same boat, it’s a demographic bubble we are in.”
The eligible retirees include members of the police and fire services.
Council will deal with the 2019 budget early in the new year.
ARE WE STILL ON PLAN?
Is it just an impression felt in this corner or is the emergence of the new Food Basics store on Talbot Street creating a canyon effect similar to that in the west end at the Grand Central complex?
Approaching the location of the new food retailer from the west, a view of the iconic CASO station is totally obscured.
With the city heavily pushing its Talbot Street Heritage Conservation District, what conversation transpired between staff and the developers to incorporate an element of this plan into the structure?
And please, mounting a few murals along the Talbot Street frontage isn’t exactly in the spirit of this downtown homage to our rail heritage.
In a presentation to council in March of last year, Lashia Jones of Stantec Consulting suggested any new development would have to be “sympathetic” to the existing external style, including height and density.
The external finish has not yet begun, however sitting across the street in Streamliners, one would have no inkling the beautifully restored CASO station is still with us.
This tweaked our curiosity, so we dug into our files and uncovered the following notation from the Lakeshore Group, which undertook a site study for Gyulveszi Holdings, owner of the property at 780 Talbot Street.
“The subject property is located within the Downtown St. Thomas Heritage Conservation District Study Area, however, it is not listed or designated under the Ontario Heritage Act. As the site is adjacent to the Canada Southern Railway station which is a designated heritage property, the site plan approval process will ensure that any proposed development on the subject site does not negatively impact on the heritage attributes of the railway station building.”
No, you just won’t be able to see the structure from numerous vantage points.
Continuing further, in the draft official plan and zoning bylaw amendment, presented to council in March of 2017 by the director of planning Pat Keenan, it is noted the purpose of the amendment “is to permit the re-establishment of a retail food store use initially within the existing single storey 2,153 sq. metre building.”
Has the original development, as proposed last year, somehow gotten off the rails?
As always, reader input is certainly welcome.
Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek fielded his first question this week at Queen’s Park as minister of transportation.
The query, dealing with the use of seat belts on school buses, was directed his way by none other than former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne.
His reminder her government had 15 years to enact the mandatory use of seat belts in school buses is worth watching here
ONE TO WATCH
This past week, St. Thomas Police Service Chief Chris Herridge, in a Tweet, noted “This morning we hit 17,000 incidents, the highest I can remember since starting in 1989. We are on pace to potentially reach 19,000 – averaging over 52 incidents daily. In 2011 we reached 16,031 – our highest before this year. The dedication of staff at STPS has not wavered!”
That’s a truly significant increase in the number of incidents city police are dealing with this year and, in the coming days, we will talk to Herridge about the added workload and his take on the causes and impact on the service.
Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope
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