The operative word in this week’s headline is art. Art on a grand scale. As in a massive movie-themed mural painted on Pier 9 of the Michigan Central Railroad trestle, which hosts the St. Thomas Elevated Park atop the impressive structure. The expansive visual treatment, to be undertaken by mural artist Daniel Bombardier, also known as Denial, is the brainchild of the St. Thomas Economic Development Corporation. Because the mural would be an alteration to the bridge designated under the Ontario Heritage Act, council’s consent is required and the matter will be on the agenda for Monday’s May 3 meeting. At an April 14 meeting of the Municipal Heritage Committee, support was given to the project, “subject to any paint or colour scheme being complementary to the historic character of the designated property.” Serge Lavoie, president of the elevated park promotes it as “a worthy addition to Canada’s first and only elevated park.”
This past Monday was a busy day for Mayor Joe Preston as he noted the city was able to undertake a decade’s worth of work in a day.
Preston was referring to the city’s three-year strategic plan setting out priorities, guiding principles, goals and commitments as laid out at the Dec. 14 reference committee meeting.
One of the pillars of that plan is creation of a compassionate community and the commitment to build an emergency shelter for the homeless. It is to be constructed in a single location and be open by September of this year.
Well on Monday the city released a blueprint as it moves forward on its compassionate community strategic objective.
It’s a sweeping paper with many more objectives than just a homeless shelter.
The most immediate action point involves the city entering into a memorandum of understanding with Indwell Community Homes to develop supportive housing projects.
Picking up from Monday’s 2021 city budget deliberations, council had directed administration to pare back the municipal property tax levy from 2.48 per cent to 1.5 per cent in deference to the economic impact on ratepayers of the coronavirus.
That request by council translated into cutting about $572,000 from the proposed capital and operating budgets.
Council indicated a priority would be to maintain as much as possible the tax-base contribution to the capital budget and minimize the impact on service delivery in the operating budget.
In other words, find the savings without cutting services.
To deliver on council’s request city manager Wendell Graves and department heads held a pair of meetings on Tuesday of this week to ferret out possible sources of savings.
As a result, council grants to community groups and organizations will be cut by $75,000 in the new year. Leaving about $210,000 in the grant kitty to distribute in 2021.
It was agreed to reduce Community Improvement Program funding by $200,000.
City council will hold two meetings this coming week to begin deliberations on 2021 proposed operating and capital budgets.
The first will start immediately after Monday’s (Dec. 7) council meeting which begins at 5 p.m., with the second to be held the following day starting at 5 p.m.
As it stands now, the budget calls for a 2.48 per cent increase to the property tax levy next year.
Capital projects as proposed would require just under $41 million in funding and, if passed by council, would mark the largest capital budget where debt was not drawn.
Items in the capital budget recommended for approval include up to five electric light-duty vehicles as the city begins to make good on reducing its carbon footprint.
The biggest project at $10.8 million is rebuilding Fairview Avenue from Elm Street to Southdale Line.
Annual road rehabilitation comes in at $2 million and the ongoing Complete Streets program next year will require $6.8 million.
Let’s pray it never reaches this stage – and to date, there is no indication St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital is about to be overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients – however, the president of OPSEU is urging the province “to look for creative ways to combat the spread of the coronavirus.” Warren ‘Smokey’ Thomas is urging the Doug Ford government to consider opening portions of previously shuttered regional mental health centres including the facility south of St. Thomas and the Rideau Regional Centre in Smiths Falls to ease a potential capacity crisis in the healthcare system. In a media release issued last month, Thomas noted, “They can be used for currently hospitalized alternative care patients or as dedicated COVID-19 centres to relieve pressure on our hospitals. Let’s be proactive. Now is the time for action.”
With the observation, “Our assets are the strongest link to the new city branding,” a pair of St. Thomas railway-based entities are seeking an exemption from paying municipal property taxes. Matt Janes of The Railworks Coalition – representing the Elgin County Railway Museum (ECRM), the CASO station and, in the near future, the St. Thomas Elevated Park – made a pitch to city council at Monday’s (Jan. 20) reference committee meeting requesting tax relief. While no decision was made at the meeting, there was no shortage of questions and comments from members of council combined with a healthy dose of skepticism from several quarters. In an email to City Scope on Tuesday, Janes outlined three objectives behind the deputation to council. Topping the list was the need to, “Stress how important the Railworks’ assets (ECRM, CASO Station and Elevated Park) are to “The Railway City” brand, and the economic activity generated by our organizations.”
On Jan. 1 of 2014, the city implemented a 10-year Housing and Homelessness Plan, as mandated by the province’s Housing Services Act. The goal of the plan – in conjunction with Elgin county – is to work toward meeting the housing and support needs of the community while eliminating long-term homelessness. At Monday’s (May 13) meeting, a mid-term report was presented to council detailing four strategic directions: increase housing supply options; provide supports to keep people in the sustainable housing they currently have; enhance the current system to prevent homelessness and when homeless, “rapidly” move people into stable housing; and pursue community partnerships. Let’s focus in on the homeless strategy as 2014 was a significant first year with the rollout of the city’s plan.Continue reading →
Thirteen months after city council was apprised of plans to revitalize the Alma College property, members are being asked Monday (March 18) to endorse a heritage easement agreement with the developer, Patriot Properties. If approved by council, the motion would – according to a report from city manager Wendell Graves – “direct staff and the city’s solicitor to undertake the required administrative processes and make application to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) 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.Continue reading →
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.