As was his vision, Jay Burstein says Elgin Centre will again be a happening place


city_scope_logo-cmykElgin 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.

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‘As a community, we need to face this crisis. We need to call it out.’


city_scope_logo-cmykLast 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.”

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Setting the switch to the appropriate track forward for the Elgin County Railway Museum


city_scope_logo-cmykProposed 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.”

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Three decades after incorporation, could the son of a founding father offer a financial lifeline to the Elgin County Railway Museum?


city_scope_logo-cmykPreserve 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.

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Does preserving railway heritage in St. Thomas merit property tax relief?


city_scope_logo-cmykWith 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.”

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Downloadable app would alert and advise St. Thomas residents


city_scope_logo-cmykThe Town of Aylmer is already on board and now St. Thomas has the opportunity to partner with that municipality on the implementation of a community notification/alert system.
Last year Aylmer, in conjunction with a pair of local industries – the Integrated Grain Processors Co-op ethanol plant and Air Liquide – entered into an agreement with ICEsoft Technologies of Calgary to purchase their Voyent Alert system.
The firm’s website notes, “The flexible platform serves the dual purpose of alerting and advising residents during a critical incident as well as providing targeted day-to-day communication services.” Continue reading

Is it getting a little crowded under the city umbrella?


city_scope_logo-cmykA major shuffle in the works next month as the local housing corporation is to be incorporated into city operations in an effort to create “efficiencies.”

This according to city manager Wendell Graves, who explained Elgin and St. Thomas Housing Corporation — which owns and manages 512 assisted (rent geared-to-income) rental units and 18 low-end of market units throughout St. Thomas and Elgin county — will be brought “under the city’s umbrella.”

In a conversation this week, Graves noted, “We’ve had a series of reports that actually go back to last fall. We announced we are going to take a look at integrating Elgin and St. Thomas Housing Corporation under the city’s umbrella . . . and now we’re looking at a mid-September implementation date.”

So what will this entail?

As part of that the strategy in terms of the housing corporation itself, the individuals tied directly to helping the residents of the affordable housing units, the client side of it, will be working out of the Ontario Works office,” advised Graves. Continue reading

Over-extended reach ultimately hobbled Ascent


city_scope_logo-cmykWith the departure Wednesday of former Ascent CEO Ron Osborne, board chairman John Laverty takes over the helm on a temporary basis. It will be his responsibility to guide the process that will result in the hiring of an individual tasked with winching the utility out of the financial quagmire in which it finds itself to the tune of $14 million in losses and money owing to the city last year.
Not to mention its long-term debt of what, another $6 million or so?
We caught up with John this week and what many may not realize is the St. Thomas resident was a former public utilities commissioner who has been “kicking around the utility industry on the governance side since 1991.”
He advised the process of hiring a new CEO started almost immediately.
“We decide as a board whether we’re going to use a headhunter or not.” Continue reading

Promoting healthy lifestyle choices for St. Thomas


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She’s a master’s student of local economic development and a former resident of St. Thomas who has issued a challenge to the city to embrace alternative modes of transportation.

Tara Smedbol, now a London resident, contacted us recently with two simple ways in which St. Thomas can increase its livability for residents. The first focuses on developing cycling infrastructure and the other is to increase transit options.

This is not a matter of recreational infrastructure, Smedbol asserts, but instead it would increase the options and abilities for residents to be mobile and connected to the city.

“The key to a vibrant city with a vibrant downtown,” she points out, “is activity and movement of people.” She continues: “One tactic to increase activity on the streets is by encouraging walking and bicycling in the downtown core and other areas of the city.

“It is self-explanatory that as someone drives a car less (maybe even giving up a car in favour of other modes of transportation, if they are able to change their commuting patterns) and thus decrease the costs directly associated to owning a car, they increase their disposable income.”
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