Market study recommends more retail in downtown core; revitalization of Elgin Mall


city_scope_logo-cmykIn the period 2000 to 2015, St. Thomas experienced an almost three-fold increase in vacant commercial retail space. That’s one of the key findings in a 2015 retail market study to be presented to council Monday.
The study, undertaken by Dillon Consulting and W. Scott Morgan & Associates, sought to “analyse the ability of the city’s commercial policy framework to support the health of its retail market, while identifying the evolving retail market trends that may affect St. Thomas.”
The city has 2.46 million square feet of retail commercial space – an increase of 15 per cent since 2007 – but in that total, 313,000 square feet is vacant, up from 114,000 in the year 2000.

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A quotation for everything: the past year in review


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It’s been a City Scope tradition to greet the incoming year by surveying the past 365 days to savor the wit and wisdom of our elected representatives.

As a collector of quotes from a variety of sources, it lends credence to the words of wisdom from British author Dorothy L. Sayers: “I always have a quotation for everything – it saves original thinking.”

Of course, when media scribes document a response or comment to the pages for posterity, we must be prepared for the inevitable charge of being taken out of context.

Or, as one anonymous wag noted, “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say will be misquoted, then used against you.”

With the preamble out of the way, let’s glean through a year’s worth of columns to fully appreciate what transpired in 2012.
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A case of the health minister calling the kettle black


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Now that the St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital Foundation has made its financial pitch to St. Thomas and Elgin county, both councils – via membership on the municipal joint committee – have compiled a list of questions designed to shake loose answers from the less-than-accommodating hospital administration.
And, the joint committee has invited – no, make that requested – Paul Bode, chairman of the STEGH board of governors, and Susan O’Brien, foundation president and chairman, attend their next meeting on Wednesday.

STEGH redevelopment sketch

STEGH redevelopment sketch


In a letter to Bode and O’Brien, dated Nov. 22, the joint committee acknowledges the hospital is a valuable community resource.
However, “we are confident that you are aware of our own municipal budgetary challenges and the fact that we must be fully accountable for taxation expenditures to those we serve,” the communication advises.
As such, the committee would like answers and information that includes:
■ Specific project costs for the redevelopment costs.
■ Is there a written, binding commitment from the province to finance the re-scoped project?
■ The province is requiring 100% of the equipment for the mental health component, representing $2.5 million, be funded locally. Why has the onus for this component of the project shifted from the province to the local jurisdiction, and where in policy or regulation is this new requirement contained?
■ The total cost of the re-scoped project is $70 million (City Scope still believes it is less than $50 million) – a reduction of about 25%, so why is the amount to be raised by the city and council still pegged at $9 million? The committee would like specific rationale why the municipal contribution is not adjusted relevant to the reduction of the overall costs.
■ And, what about infrastructure costs (roads, sewers, watermains etc.) associated with redevelopment of the hospital? Has any allowance been made for these costs?
All good questions, the answers to some of these we have previously championed in this corner.
It all comes down to transparency and jettisoning the attitude the city and county should endorse the cheques and then just go away.

DUELING DIPLOMATICOS
Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek has valid concerns about how much the community must contribute to the hospital redevelopment fund and is seeking a meeting with the health ministry to sort things out.
Health Minister Deb Matthews fires back it’s time Yurek got on board with the project, and for good measure adds, “I know his party would not be building it.”
Whoa there Deb, let’s hit the pause button.
Who camped out on the front steps of the hospital just weeks in advance of the 2011 provincial vote and promised the Cadillac version of redevelopment for the facility.
And then insisted this announcement was politically transparent, in spite of the timing.
However, when Liberal candidate Lori Baldwin-Sands couldn’t keep up her end of the bargain and failed to deliver the riding, somehow the project becomes the subject of a re-scoping process.
The result – we get a stripped-down compact model and the community is saddled with the Cadillac sticker price.
So, who really needs to wholeheartedly get behind the project? More so in light of the questions listed and information sought in the opening item of this week’s column.
Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.
Sheesh.

DWINDLING DIVIDEND
Up near the front of Monday’s city council agenda is treasurer Bill Day’s budget monitoring report up to Sept. 30 of this year. Day is predicting a budget surplus of $300,000, which is not bad, but a far cry from the $1 million-plus years.
Of interest, however, is the notation from Day the 2012 dividend from Ascent Group Inc. (formerly St. Thomas Energy Inc.) has been cut in half to $250,000.
What’s the deal here?
For an operation touted in the past by former CEO Brian Hollywood and former board chairman Ald. Tom Johnston as having such a rosy future, this is rather disturbing news for the real shareholders – city ratepayers.
Sheds a little more light, perhaps, on why neither of the above individuals remains in place.
With a seemingly bleak financial picture this year at Ascent, it casts further doubt on the rationale behind greasing Ald. Johnston’s palm with Red Wings’ season tickets.
In addition to the small matter such compensation is in violation of a city bylaw.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“It’s time for Jeff Yurek to get behind the project. I know that his party would not be building it. They have been very clear that this is not the time to be investing in capital projects, but we are.”
In their on-going war of words, health minister Deb Matthews says its time for Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek to get behind the St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital redevelopment project instead of peppering her with questions.

City Scope appears Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to ian.mccallum@sunmedia.ca.

A waiting game at STEGH while government backtracks


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It’s been all quiet on the STEGH re-scoping front of late so time for an update courtesy of hospital CEO Paul Collins, in the form of a personal message sent to his “colleagues.”
Collins advises, “At the time of my last update to you on April 19th we were meeting with the Ministry Capital Branch in Toronto to discuss our STEGH project “re-scoping” approach. Our discussion with them focused on reducing the over-all cost of our project.”
Cost savings can be achieved by possibly eliminating some elements, like new hallways for movement through the existing buildings and reducing the size of new areas like the emergency department and mental health, while maintaining ministry planning and space standards, Collins suggests.

“These changes are possible only because since submitting the original plan in 2009, we have learned a great deal about how to plan and use space better,” he suggests.
“We have continued to work with the ministry on our “interim” plan to demolish the Snell building, move Ambulatory care from the first floor west wing to ground floor CCC and renovate the vacated first floor west wing, all to accommodate the new Mental Health program in this temporary space, beginning 2013.”
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Why does this promise come with a bitter after-taste?


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Re-scope is a word that was totally alien to the average vocabulary prior to delivery of the provincial budget at the end of March.
In the days afterward, the administration at St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital, our elected representatives and area residents puzzled over the implications of re-scoping on the hospital’s redevelopment plans.
Well, puzzle no longer.
This corner has determined the definition of re-scope as follows: the massive slashing of funding for a project promised just weeks before an election when the electorate doesn’t deliver.
And we mean ruthless cutting and hacking.
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Oh, that’s the way we’ve always done things


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It’s no longer business as usual at city hall, asserts Ald. Gord Campbell.
“Or, this is the way we’ve always done it,” continues the chairman of the city’s personnel and labour relations committee.
“We’re taking a look at everything – the departments, departmental structure and not just to save money, but to make things more efficient and to improve the system.”
City Scope contacted Ald. Campbell after learning deputy clerk Rick Beachey had been laid off earlier this week.
The re-structuring is the brainchild of CAO Wendell Graves, whom Campbell praised for the initiative.
The purpose of the exercise is not to get rid of people, Campbell stressed.
“The purpose of the exercise is simply to make things more efficient. And to look at everything. I don’t know how many outside contracts we have, and you say something to someone and they say: ‘Oh, that’s the way we’ve always done that.’ Well wait a minute, things have changed over the last 20 years.”
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St. Thomas resident calls on health minister to intervene in STEGH CEO fiasco


To: Hon. D. Matthews, MPP Minister of Health and Long-Term Care
M. Barrett, CEO South West LHIN

Cc: I. McCallum, Page Editor St. Thomas Times-Journal

Subject: St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital Fiasco

I am sending this request by e-mail as time is of the essence. I would like to draw your attention to the events undermining public trust and confidence that are unfolding at the St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital involving the “retired” CEO Paul Collins.

STEGH CEO and President Paul Collins

To-date the St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital board of governors has ignored strongly worded direction given by two elected municipal bodies; the Elgin County Council and the St. Thomas City Council calling for the replacement of CEO Paul Collins. Further St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital board of governors is reportedly about to give Mr. Collins a new 5-year contract.
“It is Council’s considered opinion that the public’s perception of the circumstances surrounding the position’s reappointment are irrevocably tainted… ”

This situation has contributed to the resignation of a prominent businessman from the St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital transition committee.

“The news of the recent actions of the Board of Governors of the STEGH in the face of municipal opposition is deeply offensive. The sheer arrogance of entitlement which controls the thinking of the Board of Governors of our hospital boggles the mind.”

I understand that you have the authority to intervene and put an end to this management fiasco and request your immediate attention to the matter.

Respectfully,

Bill Sandison
St. Thomas, ON