It was less than encouraging news this week for St. Thomas and area businesses.
Ontario’s top doctor, Dr. Kieran Moore, advises he can’t offer any guarantee the current COVID-19 public health restrictions will be lifted on Jan. 26, even though in-class learning opens up on Monday.
Businesses across the province have been begging for greater clarity on the restrictions.
Dr. Moore says he understands their frustration, but any easing of restrictions will be tied to hospital and ICU cases.
There is an expectation, says Dr. Moore, the picture may become a little clearer sometime next week, however, those restrictions will be eased in a slow and careful fashion.
Just after announcing the move to a Modified Step Two of the Roadmap to Reopen at the beginning of January, we talked with Earl Taylor, chairman of the Downtown Development Board to get a sense of the impact locally.
He’s lived in the downtown core for 29 years and Steve Peters recounts over that time, “either sitting in my front window and watching the traffic on the street or sitting on my deck and hearing the traffic, things have changed.”
Boy, have they ever and Coun. Peters begins to open up on the challenges people face in finding a place to live in the heart of St. Thomas.
How much of that is due to what is referred to as the gentrification of downtown neighbourhoods?
“In the core area, the number of retrofits I have seen and continue to see,” suggested Peters.
“I am aware of a family that has had to move out of their place because the building has been sold and the new owner is coming in and is going to spend a lot of money to upgrade the place.
“I can look at a house beside me that is a fourplex and changed hands about four years ago and the new owner I bet spent over $200,000 or more and where this fourplex was probably renting for $600 is now renting for $1,200 plus utilities.”
Elgin Mall has wonderful potential according to the small, family-owned real estate investment company that acquired the 263,000-square-foot property in October of 2016.
At the time the mall was operating at a roughly 50 per cent vacancy rate.
Jay Burstein, spokesman for the new owners stated, “Our goal is to try and lease the vacant space as quickly as possible and try to make this mall the vibrant place it once was.”
A rather major concern was the large vacant space at the west end of the mall, formerly occupied by Zellers.
“We recognize the fact the former Zellers space is something we really have to look at,” admitted Burstein. “If we could find one tenant for that space, that would be awesome.”
Just shy of five years later and what is now known as Elgin Centre is again making headlines.
Preparatory work has begun at the very same spot in the shopping centre to make way for a $16 million, 95-room Holiday Inn Express and Suites scheduled to officially open next October.
Last week in this corner we quoted from a letter Heather Stillitano, chair of the Elgin Community Drug & Alcohol Strategy, directed toward Mayor Joe Preston and members of council. She stressed, “the ‘War on Drugs’ has not been effective at the individual, community or societal level throughout history and it fails to address the connection between mental health and opioid use.” She went on to note, the opioid overdose crisis does not exist independently from other public health issues. “For example,” Stillitano advised, “infectious diseases and other mental health concerns are highly associated with drug use.” At the council meeting, Monday (Aug. 9) members spent several moments debating the implications of her correspondence. Coun. Lori Baldwin-Sands opened the discussion by acknowledging “I am fully supporting moving this motion forward.” The motion in question isfrom BC-based Moms Stop The Harm urging council to endorse their call for the federal government to declare the overdose crisis a national public health emergency and that the government “immediately seek input from the people most affected by this crisis and meet with provinces and territories to develop a comprehensive, pan-Canadian overdose action plan.”
Proposed residential development on land currently owned by the Elgin County Railway Museum is an opportunity to revitalize that portion of downtown St. Thomas, stresses developer Doug Tarry. He is proposing to purchase eight acres of railway land immediately west of the museum at $300,000 per acre for a low-rise residential development that would front onto a new street to be built off Ross Street and north of Jonas Street. We talked with Tarry on Tuesday of this week (Aug. 3) and he stressed nothing is carved in stone at this point as museum members have yet to approve the sale of the property. He started by noting the museum is a gem and, “There is such an opportunity to incorporate how that building works and what it is being used for and how we can expand that into a real revitalization of the centre of downtown.” As to what the housing would look like Tarry advised, “We’re talking apartment units and we don’t have a design done yet because we obviously haven’t bought the property yet. “But we’re also wanting to bring our expertise to the table to help with the museum revitalization.”
Preserve a critical piece of property intrinsically linked to the city’s railway heritage or build 240 or so badly needed housing units in the downtown core. That’s the question to be put to members of the Elgin County Railway Museum early next month. St. Thomas developer Doug Tarry is offering to purchase eight acres of railway land immediately west of the museum at $300,000 per acre for low-rise residential development that would front on to a new street to be built off Ross Street and north of Jonas Street. The museum would remain, as would the transfer table to the east. Much of the existing yard track would have to be lifted to create a new yard to the north of the museum, maintaining the connection with the Port Stanley Terminal Rail line. The offer is conditional on the museum receiving approval of the membership. The reason for a possible sale of some of the excess land is to raise funds to go toward restoring the museum building – the former Michigan Central Railroad locomotive shops – while reducing ongoing operating costs. Proceeds from the sale will provide seed money to access additional loans and grants to allow for the complete restoration of the building.
Unveiled this past Monday (May 3) by St. Thomas developer Doug Tarry and Lindsay Rice of the YWCA St. Thomas-Elgin, Project Tiny Hope offers just that. Big on hope packaged up in quality, energy-efficient, supportive affordable housing for St. Thomas. The undertaking to take shape at 21 Kains Street, the former home of Elgin Handles, will consist of 20 tiny homes and 20 units in a three-storey apartment building. A dream come true for Tarry, who enthused you can’t beat the location. “You’re five minutes from everything. You’ve got banking, grocery stores and you’re a minute from the trail system. We’re really pumped about this project.” Doug Tarry Limited contributed $280,000 for cleanup of the brownfield site which is expected to begin later this year. He is partnering with the YWCA and Sanctuary Homes of Elgin-St. Thomas. The latter donated $200,000 to purchase the lot.
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.”
Let’s start with the following premise. “If the joint goal of our community is to provide as much affordable housing for people (as possible), it is important that the private sector be the primary delivery agent.” That’s the argument put forth by Peter Ostojic who, along with his brother Joe, has completed several affordable housing developments in St. Thomas and Aylmer. In the past several months via emails sent to this corner, Peter has repeatedly questioned why the city is undertaking the construction of affordable housing units such as Phase 1 of the city’s social services and housing hub recently opened at 230 Talbot Street. A total of 28 apartment units are located on the two floors above the ground floor office space. Of those units, eight one-bedroom apartments have received funding through the federal/provincial Investment in Affordable Housing (IAH) program. As such, rents can be no higher than 80 per cent of the average market rent for the area.