You can amend the St. Thomas official plan but will that attract hotel guests?

city_scope_logo-cmykEarlier this month, council unanimously approved recommendations from the planning department concerning amendments to the city’s official plan to support hotel and apartment use at Elgin Centre (formerly Elgin Mall).
The report from Jim McCoomb, manager of planning services for the city, followed a public meeting held July 15 where some residents expressed concerns about noise emanating from the hotel, snow removal and storage, fire safety for the upper levels of the hotel and parking and traffic.
A traffic assessment study submitted to the city concluded, “the proposed redevelopment of a portion of the existing Elgin Centre shopping mall will not significantly change the existing roadway traffic volumes and on-site parking accommodation.”
It was noted a petition had been received signed by 40 individuals opposed to the proposal.

Subsequently, a public open house was held last month attended by about three dozen residents, most of whom spoke in favour of the development.
The hotel in question would rise five stories with 92 units.
Future use of the property could also see a mix of apartments and office/retail in a proposed new building fronting Wellington Street.
Elgin Centre developmentjpgYou have to wonder what has changed so dramatically since 2015 when council received a retail marketing study from Justine Giancola of Dillon Consulting and Scott Morgan of W. Scott Morgan & Associates that encouraged “revitalization” of the mall.
But the authors were not optimistic about attracting a major hotel/motel chain to the city.
Mayor at the time, Heather Jackson, noted: “a previous study indicated there was not enough Monday to Thursday traffic.”
Giancola suggested the city may “be limited to boutique-type of hotels.”
Compared to Morgan’s assessment, her projection was downright rosy.
Morgan cautioned, “The hotel picture is discouraging,” due to the proximity of London. “I don’t hold out much hope.”
Did that report completely misread the landscape in St. Thomas or has the city developed to the point where it now can support a name brand hotel?
Relying on more than hockey and baseball tournaments to fill those rooms.

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The floor is sinking while the cost of remediation is rising over at the new police HQ on CASO Crossing.
Back in May of this year, a report came to city council with the disturbing news the floor of the garage area in the northwest corner of the building was settling.
The $11 million building was completed only two years ago.
St. Thomas Police HQBy last summer, the floor had sunk more than an inch and, upon investigation, “No definite conclusion can be drawn as to the reason for the slab settlement,” according to the report submitted to council on May 13 of this year from Ross Tucker, director of parks, recreation and property.
The report went on to note, as of last September, one area of the floor had settled by as much as two inches.
In consultation with architects and engineers it was determined, “Based on the information available, it does not appear to be a warranty item,” advised Tucker.
He continued, “it was suggested that the city should hire a structural engineer to design a replacement system to solve the existing problem.”
He estimated the cost of floor replacement at $75,000.
Well, that was then and this is now.
In a report coming before council Monday (Sept. 16) the cost of remediation has inexplicably jumped to the $137,000 range, including architectural fees and HST.
Council will be asked to approve drawing down $62,000 from reserve accounts to pay the expected winning bid from Elgin Contracting and Restoration.
Perhaps a breakout of the increased costs is also in order at Monday’s meeting.


During the Sept. 3 city council meeting, Coun. Steve Peters asked what appeared to be a most straightforward question.
“Can we accelerate the replanting of trees cut down on McIntyre Street?”
To briefly recap, back in April Julie Tucker of the city’s parks and recreation department issued a permit to Patriot Properties to remove a number of trees on the Alma College property in preparation for the three-tower residential development planned for the Moore Street site.
Alma tree removal permitjpgThe permit was issued even though Patriot Properties was not the owner of the site at the time. The deal with London developer Gino Reale was finalized in July.
A greater consideration, however, was the clear directive from city manager Wendell Graves that ““prior to the development actually proceeding, council will be required to manage the planning matters for the site which include the removal of the holding zones, final approval of the site plan and the city will be required to enter into a Community Improvement Program grant agreement for the project.”
The fate of the remaining trees after 34 were felled in June and the final landscaping were to be part of the site plan approval.
So, back to Coun. Peters’ question.
The above mentioned Ross Tucker advised Peters now is not the right time.
Tucker continued, “They (Patriot Properties) have to excavate right to the property line (at McIntyre Street) for underground parking.”
But, hold on a minute, responded Peters.
The part of the development is Phase 3 and could be five years down the road.
City manager Wendell Graves intervened and assured Peters he would discuss this with the developer.
So what has transpired since the Sept. 3 meeting?
We put that question to Graves yesterday (Sept. 13).
“I am going to follow up with Michael Loewith (of Patriot Properties). We have been trying to figure out over the last week and a half where things are with LPAT.”
That’s the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal which is dealing with the city’s to remove the requirement of the existing 2008 Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) order that any development or redevelopment of 96 Moore Street include a faithful replication of the north façade of the former Alma College building.
Should the LPAT authorize such an action, the heritage easement agreement would replace the OMB order on the land title.
Graves continued, “I had a brief conversation with Ross Tucker and we’re going to take a look at the tree planting plan that they (Patriot Properties) provided just to see if there was any on the site that could possibly go in early.
“I think they’ve got about 100 trees going on that site, so if there was an opportunity to get some (planted) out of the construction zone, why not?”
Graves did acknowledge, “I thought that was a good question (from Peters), actually.”
I’m sure Peters and the residents along McIntyre Street are awaiting a good answer.

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Received an email from faithful reader Bob who appears to live in the epicentre of a pair of major road reconstruction projects now underway on Elm Street and on Churchill Crescent.
He wrote, “While I might be biased as I seem to be boxed in by road construction in my area, I have observed that it appears no neighbourhood in the city seems to be untouched.”
Bob queried the cost of this year’s projects and projected finish dates so perhaps this will provide some answers.
Elm Street rebuild 1jpgThe Elm Street reconstruction from Sunset Drive to First Avenue is the big one with a price tag of $8.8 million. None of that amount is tax funded with the entire amount coming from reserves and development charges.
The project is scheduled to be completed this December.
The culvert replacement on Churchill Crescent adjacent to Pierre Elliott Trudeau French Immersion School has an estimated price tag of $800,000 with $75,000 of that being tax funded. The remainder comes from reserves.
It was hoped the undertaking would be completed before the start of the new school year however work continues.
A call yesterday (Sept. 13) to city manager Wendell Graves resulted in the following information.
“We knew it was going to take a little more bit more time so they are looking to have that opened the week of Sept. 23. That is a huge culvert in there.”
Another $7 million was assigned to the Complete Streets budget to cover four reconstruction projects on Ross, Myrtle, Southwick and Hughes streets. None of that amount is tax funded.
Elsewhere annual road rehabilitation this year is budgeted in the range of $1 million and $375,000 has been allotted to the sidewalk program.
Hopefully, that sheds a little light on things, Bob.


Without a doubt, Ferg was a one-of-a-kind character around St. Thomas.
Ferg was colourful, boisterous and quick to greet you with a “Hey, Ian.”
The city will be a somewhat quieter place – and that is unfortunate in this circumstance – with the death last Sunday (Sept. 8) of Steve Ferguson.
Ferguson, Steve jpgA life-long resident of St. Thomas and P.U.C. employee, Ferg’s office for many years was in a hockey rink, most notably Memorial Arena where he served as a jack-of-all-trades in the capacity of timekeeper, scorekeeper, announcer and statistician.
He gladly fulfilled these tasks with the Jr. B St. Thomas Stars and spent every Saturday night during the oldtimer hockey season undertaking the same duties.
On a personal note, I remember discussing the finer points of the game in progress while serving two minutes in the sin bin alongside Ferg.
More recently, Ferg held court at the back table inside the Why Not Cookies Cafe debating the world’s problems with Mr. A in from Talbotville and digging deep to remember a snippet of hockey trivia to satisfy a reporter’s curiosity.
Obscure hockey facts filed away in Ferg’s memory.
That back corner of the cafe is a lot less rambunctious now.
And, if you listen carefully you can still faintly hear Ferg’s energetic guffaws.
Miss you Ferg.


Responding to our item last week on affordable housing, Leticia Amanda passed along the following.

“When the city owns the spaces, this will bring down the waitlist and then we can streamline people into it using a database based on vulnerability and need. This is a great plan, and it will help cut down the wait list! It would be really great to get Indwell into the city to help boost the affordable housing market too. We need this. Desperately.”

By way of explanation, Indwell is a Christian charity that creates affordable housing communities that support people seeking health, wellness and belonging. Their programs support more than 550 households in Hamilton, Woodstock, Simcoe and London.

And our mid-week story on the St. Thomas Elevated Park caught the attention of Jean Beattie.

“Wooow much improved since we saw it in spring, will be paying another visit soon.”


The official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of the St. Thomas Elevated Park is today (Sept. 14) at 5 p.m.

Wonderland Road between Ferguson and Ron McNeil lines will be closed for drainage work starting on Tuesday (Sept. 17) until Oct. 1.

boxcar art 1 jpgOn Sept. 28, Railway City Tourism undertakes the “first big step for promotion of the arts and the enhancement of public spaces in St. Thomas,” according to tourism manager Megan Pickersgill. That day, the four boxcar murals will be officially unveiled on the former L&PS rail line at Moore and Talbot streets. The cars will be available for viewing beginning at 9 a.m., with a special announcement to be made at 4:30 p.m. In addition, street artist Will Graham and a group of chalk art students will begin creating a masterpiece right on Moore Street starting at 9 a.m.

ABCR fundraiser


All Breed Canine Rescue is holding a fundraiser Oct. 3 beginning at 7:30 p.m. at Unity Church, 501 Nelson St. in London featuring the eclectic sounds of The Frankly Scarlett Band. Tickets are $10. For more info, call 519-633-6226.

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