Moving St. Thomas forward despite the coronavirus: ‘There’s no shutting the key off on this bus’ – Mayor Joe Preston


city_scope_logo-cmykAs city residents transitioned from Christmas celebrations to life under a minimum 28-day province-wide shutdown, we chatted with Mayor Joe Preston on how this will impact the administration’s game plan for 2021.
Considering council and administration accomplished much in a year we would otherwise like to forget.
That includes a new transit system that will begin to take shape this month, the impressive number of building permits issued in 2020, construction projects underway like the residential development on the Alma College site, new industries like Element5 springing up, affordable housing projects and a new civic park project to be developed on the site of the former police headquarters.
Always upbeat, Preston began by pointing out city hall will remain open during this time while other municipalities have chosen to keep their administrative offices closed.

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Spending it well on affordable housing for St. Thomas


city_scope_logo-cmykThe magnificent edifice at the corner of Talbot and Mary Streets, formally known as the Mickleborough building, has had a bit of an uncertain future over the past three years.
It was the former home of Ontario Works before the city purchased it from London developer Shmuel Farhi in March of 2017.
It dates back to the early 1900s and was designed by St. Thomas architect Neil Darrach. Its appraised value at the time of the sale was $4 million.
Under the deal, Farhi Holdings was to donate $2.3 million in exchange for a tax receipt and the city would pay the remaining $1.7 million.
The intent at the time was to partner with the Central Community Health Centre in hopes of consolidating their operations into the structure that once housed the British mainstay Marks and Spencer in the 1970s and Huston’s Fine Furniture into the 1990s.
Added to its functions this year was transforming a portion of the stately building to serve as a day shelter for the homeless.
A far cry from the home of fine furniture.

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From ‘beyond broken’ to a transit system St. Thomas can be proud of


city_scope_logo-cmykTransit was a prominent talking point leading up to last year’s municipal vote and now, thanks to provincial funding, city residents may soon be standing at a bus stop of “a transit system we can all be proud of.”
At an announcement Thursday (Aug. 8) in front of city hall, Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek indicated the provincial government is committing $1.8 million for transit projects in St. Thomas.
The money will be used for fleet upgrades – including the purchase of 10 new buses with an additional four vehicles for future expansion – and transit technology, including priority signalling for buses at designated intersections.
In addition, the transit projects are being nominated for federal funding under the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP), a $30 billion, 10-year infrastructure initiative cost-shared between federal, provincial and municipal governments.

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Neighbourhood blight to be demolished in favour of seniors’ residence


city_scope_logo-cmykFor several years it was a pot-mark on the Wellington Street landscape. The burned-out hulk of the former Ramada Inn proved such an eyesore, Craig Geerlinks and Adam MacLeod across the street at Geerlinks Home Hardware wrote a letter to council in December 2015 pointing out “The building has been abandoned for more than a few years. We are concerned this blight on the neighbourhood, and the city in general, will continue with no end in sight.”
They concluded their missive with the fact many customers leave the store “having purchased home improvement materials, those customers look across the street and cannot help but be disheartened that their efforts at improving their properties are offset by derelict and abandoned buildings such as this one . . . Out-of-town visitors attending activities at the Timken Arena and railway museum drive past the remnants of this now abandoned building and must wonder about our community spirit.”

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What’s in a name? In this case, $2.7 million


city_scope_logo-cmykThe city this week locked in place two more pieces of the Talbot Street West redevelopment puzzle with announcement of the purchase of two properties from London developer Shmuel Farhi.
The acquisitions are the Mickleborough Building at 423 Talbot Street – the home of Ontario Works since 2000 – and a parcel of land on the south side of Talbot St., between William and Queen streets, and stretching south to Centre Street.
While a conditional offer was announced last April the delay, according to city manager Wendell Graves, revolved around environmental issues.
“We have done due diligence over and above so we know exactly what we are facing,” stressed Graves. “In our approved city budget this year we have funds allocated there to begin some cleanup. Because we are looking to use pieces of that site for residential, under the Ministry of the Environment regs, that is the highest order of cleanup that will be required.”

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City and London developer Shmuel Farhi reach deal on west-end properties


After announcing a conditional offer last April, the city has reached a deal with London developer Shmuel Farhi for the purchase of two Talbot Street properties.
City manager Wendell Graves announced the deal Wednesday morning that includes the Mickleborough building at 423 Talbot Street – the home of Ontario Works since 2000 – and a parcel of land on the south side of Talbot St., between William and Queen streets, and extending south to Centre Street.
The property includes four homes on Queen Street.

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A big ‘if’ looming over proposed west end community hub


city_scope_logo-cmykIt’s fast approaching the one-year anniversary of the announcement last April the city has extended a conditional offer to London developer Shmuel Farhi to purchase a vacant plot of land on the south side of Talbot St., between William and Queen streets, and extending to Centre Street.

The site is being considered for development of a community hub to house the Ontario Works department and the Central Community Health Centre, both currently occupying office space along the north side of Talbot Street. The possibility also exists the site could be used for affordable housing units.

In the intervening months, the city has undertaken due diligence. Time is becoming a factor, however, as the lease on the Mickleborough building at 423 Talbot Street current home of Ontario Works and also owned by Farhi, expires later this year.

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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

Last stand imminent for Alma College chapel


city_scope_logo-cmykAfter years of broken promises, neglect, vandalism and the ravages of weather, the final countdown has begun for the Alma College chapel.
Mind you little remains of the chapel — opened in 1948 and, in more caring times, known as Ella D. Bowes Chapel — save for the brick walls and a barely hanging together roof.
Friday morning, new owner Gino Reale of London was given permission by the city to demolish the chapel in which many St. Thomas and area couples were married.
He told this corner the structure was far beyond any hope of restoration and had become a serious safety hazard after several small fires and a roof courting collapse.
Final rights for the chapel could come as early as the beginning of the week.
Most frustrating in all of this is previous owner George Zubick had been issued a list of cleanup priorities by Wade Woznuk, at that time property standards officer for the city. Those included repairs to the chapel roof with an engineer “to inspect to determine extent of structural damage and required repairs.”
Those repairs were to include new asphalt roof shingles. Continue reading