Land acquisition sends a clear message St. Thomas is actively seeking to attract a significant manufacturing investment


city_scope_logo-cmykSt. Thomas this week upped the stakes in a bid to entice a large manufacturing operation to the city.
On Wednesday the city, in partnership with St. Thomas Economic Development Corp., announced it is assembling an 800-plus acre parcel of land in the area of Ron McNeil Line and Highbury Avenue.
Sean Dyke, EDC CEO said this is in anticipation of attracting a mega industrial development to the city.
“The land we have assembled for this one is aimed at trying to attract a large investment.
“When I say large, I mean on a scale that would be like a single user on a majority portion of that property.”
Dyke added, “More often than not, companies are looking to have shovels in the ground for large investments in months rather than years and I am exceptionally pleased that the city has chosen to take this strategic path forward to encourage a level of long-term success and economic sustainability that will be felt not just in St. Thomas, but across the entire region.”

St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston called it an investment in the city’s future, critical to furthering economic growth in the community.
“It is a hugely good news story,” enthused Preston.
“There are so many large projects looking for a home. Us having land ready for one of them is an incredibly good news story, considering the growth of St. Thomas.”
June 8 industrial land Ron McNeil and Highbury 2022Dyke confirmed while there is no imminent investment, this is an opportunity for the city to showcase itself with available land for a mega industrial development.
Yesterday (June 10) in a lengthy conversation with Dyke, he noted snagging an EV battery plant would be ideal, however, “as far as going out and pitching those projects, we typically respond when they come to us.
“It’s not just that sector, it’s multiple sectors that are interested in large sites right now.
“Yes, we are interested in the EV battery sector but the reality is we’re also open to other large investment.”

“We avoided that with all the property owners and they are very pleased with the relationship we have with them and everybody seems very willing to work with us.”

He added, “For the site, we’re assembling, we don’t know what’s going to happen. Obviously, our focus would be high-quality jobs in a great working environment.
“But we have very little control how companies operate or how they pay their employees, but obviously that’s the kind of business we’re targetting.”
With several property owners involved in acquiring the land and the city perhaps facing a holdout situation, was the prospect of expropriation considered.”
That was not deemed necessary in this case advised Dyke.
“We’ve completed what we wanted to get done for now without having to expropriate.
“And obviously, we want to avoid that kind of situation. Expropriation isn’t always a bad thing.
“It has a bad reputation, in the sense, it sounds like the city is coming in and taking land from people.
“But what it really means is you come in and offer fair market value for the property and they have to accept it. There is some negative connotation to that of course.
“We avoided that with all the property owners and they are very pleased with the relationship we have with them and everybody seems very willing to work with us.”
When turning toward the argument good agricultural land is now being taken out of production Dyke noted, “Whenever you’re doing any kind of development in communities or outside of communities, there is always that concern.
“And we recognized that from the beginning. It’s definitely something that’s certainly not the real positive of the development.

“We’re very blessed here in this province to have a lot of farmland and I’m certainly not discounting the fact that there is some coming out of production as a result of this, but every time we build a subdivision that happens too.”

“But the reality is everywhere that we live right now and everywhere that we work used to be farmland or kind of agricultural or treed property.
“I think we can go at it with the opinion that, yes we want to save as much farmland as possible, but at the same time there are some natural areas in the community where growth should happen.
“And we believe the area we’re developing is the right next step for this community. When you zoom into it, it looks like a very large piece of property, but when you zoom out on that map, in comparison to the rest of the province and the agricultural land around us, it’s actually a fairly small component of what’s left in Ontario for farmland.
“We’re very blessed here in this province to have a lot of farmland and I’m certainly not discounting the fact that there is some coming out of production as a result of this, but every time we build a subdivision that happens too.”
Dyke noted in conversations with some of the landowners, that they recognized the fact this would be a likely outcome for portions of their property.
“I think we’re probably a decade earlier than they were expecting. We’ve had conversations with landowners out there in the past. This isn’t the first time we’ve approached them about future industrial growth.

“If there are 25 or 30 people who have some issue with it, I think we have to listen to them, but at the same time I think we have to do what’s best for everyone else, too.”

“This is just the first time we’ve been able to make something happen.”
As to the status of proceeding with crops on the land in question, some winter wheat is waiting to be harvested and then the city will be able to perform due diligence.
Dyke continued, “There are certain areas of the property that can’t be farmed right now because we’ve got boreholes being drilled and there are archeological studies taking place and environmental studies.
“Once we’re all done with that work, if there is no imminent investment, my expectation is what would happen is the city would lease out the farmland, same as we do for any other properties we would own to area farmers to plant and harvest.”
Dyke concluded, “This investment will impact upward of 100,000 people in Elgin and St. Thomas plus the area around us.
“If there are 25 or 30 people who have some issue with it, I think we have to listen to them, but at the same time I think we have to do what’s best for everyone else, too.”
The intent is to fully transfer ownership of the subject properties to the city by late summer.

TWEAKING THE DIAL ON TRANSIT

At Monday’s (June 6) council meeting, Coun. Jeff Kohler advised he has had feedback from several residents with concerns about the city’s parallel transit booking system.
“Several of the people have pre-booked parallel transit and then, in their mind, have been bumped because they called the Voyago dispatch (the transit operator) and the dispatcher says because of the on-demand transit, they’re ride was bumped back.”
Railway City Transit logoCity engineer Justin Lawrence responded he understands the concern and he has dealt with that call as well.
His simple answer is, “No, it’s not possible.”
“Whether you book on the telephone or you book on-demand, once your ride is booked, it’s booked.
“There is no way to get bumped. But for every ride for transit, there is a window of opportunity that is given to you by the system whereby the dispatcher will tell you we can be at your house approximately between this time and this time and they should show up.

“And I think at that time council can consider if you want to turn the dial on supply and demand. It’s one of the great things about on-demand, you can add a couple of hours of service or a whole bus, whatever you think is a good idea.”

“If you use the app you get a text to remind you the bus will be there in 10 minutes, the bus will be there in five minutes.”
Moving on from there, Lawrence had good news for council.
“The ridership is really growing for on-demand, which is fantastic. And so we’re actually going to bring a report back to council in the next couple of months to talk about the supply and demand.
“And I think at that time council can consider if you want to turn the dial on supply and demand. It’s one of the great things about on-demand, you can add a couple of hours of service or a whole bus, whatever you think is a good idea.”
Lawrence advised he will present council with options and then council can determine in what direction the buses are headed.

Related post:

Is the province interfering in or ensuring compliance with municipal codes of conduct?

WHERE ARE THE SWINGS?

Work is expected to begin later this year on the city’s new downtown civic square to be known as Westlake-Evans Civic Park.
We briefly mentioned this last week in this corner and council received an update Monday from Jeff Bray, Director of Parks, Recreation and Property Management.

“Our core schools are gone which were historically our playgrounds. There are still a lot of young people who live in the core . . . and I would like to see if we can find a way to add not just children’s swings but big kids’ swings too.”

However, as Coun. Steve Peters noted at the meeting, a key component of a park is missing.
“In my mind,” offered Peters, “the park is a learning centre and I appreciate what the library is doing, but where are the swings?
“In the downtown core, we’ve lost all of our schools although we did put a park into Wellington Street Public School.
“Our core schools are gone which were historically our playgrounds. There are still a lot of young people who live in the core and I realize there are some strings attached (to the funding agreement with the estate of Donna Vera Evans Bushell related to the park) but there are other levels of government who have money in this and I would like to see if we can find a way to add not just children’s swings but big kids’ swings too.
“And, with all the green space that’s going to be left there, to me, it should be doable and I would hopefully get some support from council so that we could look at developing not just swings, but maybe some other apparatus too.”
Responding to Coun. Peters, Bray advised “I have reached out to the consultant so we are looking at that now. Your point is well taken about the deficit of actual play structure items within the core.
“So, we’re looking at how that can be accommodated. I will get back to council to inform you on how we move forward with that.”
Once the park is completed and opens for use, and nature calls, Coun. Joan Rymal wonders where is a person to seek the closest washroom.
Seems the library “is the natural solution,” according to Bray.

Related posts:

‘To whom much is given, much is expected’ – Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP-elect Rob Flack

‘To whom much is given, much is expected’ – Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP-elect Rob Flack

ANIMAL SHELTER HITS THE DESIGN STAGE

No shortage of good news emanating from Monday’s council meeting, including a positive update on the city’s new animal shelter, according to Lawrence.
He advised earlier in the day, the city awarded the architectural proposal to a+LiNK Architecture of London, one of whose founding members is St. Thomas resident Ed van der Maarel.
animal shelter prosed design“So, we’re off to the races,” noted Lawrence. “We’ve started the design as of today and we hope to get work heavily into the design for the next six months and we should tender around December or January.”
The news obviously caught Rymal somewhat off guard, based on her response.
“So this is considered a for-sure capital project?”
Lawrence reminded her, “Council has authorized the project, we have a budget, we have an architect started and the next thing you will see is the award of the construction contract.”

Related posts:

What was old is new again: Police foot patrols in the core of St. Thomas are about ‘enhancing the value of our downtown’

STEGH reports uptick in COVID-19 testing but ‘sufficient capacity’ for anticipated influx

ONE TO WATCH

st-annes-school-funding-2-nov-25-21A public meeting will take place via Zoom at 10 a.m. on June 22 to consider a proposal to add two more portable classrooms at St. Anne’s Catholic Elementary School.
In November of last year, then Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek announced provincial dollars for a permanent expansion of the school that opened in 2009.
At the time, Bill Hall, vice-chairman of the London District Catholic School Board trustees stated the obvious when he noted, with 14 portables, “St. Anne’s is bursting with students.”

Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope

Visit us on Facebook
And a reminder, I can be heard weekday afternoons as news anchor and reporter on 94.1 myFM in St. Thomas. As always, your comments and input are appreciated.

city_scope_logo-cmyk

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s