Facade replication . . . the critical consideration in Alma property development

city_scope_logo-cmykA 2010 Ontario Municipal Board decision requiring any development on the Alma College property at 96 Moore Street must include “a faithful and accurate replication” of the front facade has polarized the community at large and the active membership of the Alma College International Alumnae Association.
Will it likewise divide members of council on Monday (Sept. 17) when they address the issue of approaching the OMB to rescind the replication condition for development.
The OMB order was registered on the Alma College property Sept. 9, 2010. It was registered by solicitors on behalf of the city and has been in effect for the past eight years.
On the matter of replication, the 44-page decision states, “Any development or re-development of the subject property that is permitted by present or future zoning regulations, shall include a faithful and accurate replication of the portions of the front facade of the Alma College building, which have been demolished, in a location identified by the Schedules to this Order. The replication shall include but not be limited to: doors, color of brick, roof line, and sight lines to a minimum horizontal depth of three meters from the front wall of the new building.” Continue reading


Are we being led down the wrong rabbit path on utility marriage? Or, how to distinguish a merger from a fire sale.

city_scope_logo-cmykDid you check out the notice in your latest St. Thomas Energy bill? Seems like the utility merger with Entegrus out of Chatham-Kent is moving toward consummation early in the new year, with the new entity to be known as Entegrus Powerlines.
I guess when you only have a 20 per cent piece of the pie you don’t have any say in naming the beast.
And by coincidence, the merger is the subject of a report from city manager Wendell Graves on Monday’s council agenda.
It’s chock full of legalese and ratepayers have the right to a clear explanation of what is about to transpire on the eve of the merger.
More important, what are the long-term financial implications because this appears to be less a merger and more a fire sale.
So, we chatted with Graves on Friday as to what members of council are being asked to vote on as our elected representatives. Continue reading

Nothing says summer like a circus under the big top

city_scope_logo-cmykThere’s no denying he’s chuffed an authentic, European-style circus will entertain at a dozen performances this summer in St. Thomas. But what really has Sean Dyke pumped is the big top tent under which it will perform.
Massive may be a more apt descriptor. The tent is 16,000 square feet in size, holds in excess 0f 2,000 in grandstand seating and 1,000 for catered events. The stage measures 1,260 square feet.
Now those are numbers the general manager over at St. Thomas Economic Development Corporation can really sink this teeth into. A tent with those dimensions shouts possibilities.
Of course the touring Canadian-Swiss Dream Circus – billed on its website as “incredible displays of acrobatic, balance, aerial stunts and thrilling acts” – will occupy the Railway City Big Top for two weekends in August, that’s a done deal.

The big top is big news

For time immemorial, it was one of the rites of summer . . . the circus is coming to town.

While the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus may be folding its big top this May after 146 years, St. Thomas will be home to its very own big top this summer.

circusjpgIn August, St. Thomas will play host to an authentic European-style circus – the Canadian Swiss Dream Circus – billed on its website as “incredible displays of acrobatic, balance, aerial stunts and thrilling acts, the cast of the Canadian Swiss Dream Circus is a show that audiences won’t want to miss.”

Artistic director Marco Baumgartner invites audiences to “Catch the high-spirited and pulse-racing thrills by the most famous artists under our Big Top. Never before has such an amazing cast of this calibre been seen in Canada.”

Exact dates and ticket prices will be announced shortly for the circus under the big top to be held adjacent to the Elgin County Railway Museum.

big-topMassive may be a more appropriate description. The tent is 16,0000 square feet in size, holds in excess 0f 2.000 in grandstand seating and 1,000 for catered events. The stage measures 1,260 square feet.

Ever wanted to hold your own event under the big top? Well it will be available from July 15 to October 15 for groups and special events such as concerts, weddings, corporate functions, trade shows and the like.

The undertaking is a joint venture between the St. Thomas Economic Development Corporation and Railway City Tourism, with $25,000 in financial support from the Ontario government.

For more information, visit railwaycitybigtop.com.

The spirit of Jumbo surely will be brought back to life under the big top this summer.


A bold step forward in tourism promotion for St. Thomas


The city has been relatively coy of late on whether it will continue its participation – and to what extent – in Elgin county’s tourism program.
In 2013, the city’s share of the tourism budget is almost $122,000 and more than once in the last couple of years there have been suggestions the city go it alone in the marketing and promotion of tourist-related opportunities.
Well the wraps are about to be thrown off the new tourism model at Monday’s council meeting.
CAO Wendell Graves suggests with an upcoming strategic review of the St. Thomas Economic Development Corporation, it would make sense to deal with many of the tourism-related ventures as economic development opportunities.
Continue reading

Questions need to be asked about hospital’s $13 million ask


The redevelopment undertaking at St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital was re-scoped earlier this year by the Dalton McGuinty government. However the hospital doesn’t appear to have re-scoped its financial expectations from the city/county/ratepayers.
The original capital redevelopment project came with a price tag estimated at $106 million, with a local commitment of 10% or roughly $11 million (although the hospital was seeking $13 million from the city/county/community).
The hospital board of governors has acknowledged – via a letter dated April 4, 2012 from board chairman Bruce Babcock to health minister Deb Matthews – the project cost has been reduced to $45 million.
Continue reading

We could have put that information to very good use


With the imminent departure of CEO Bob Wheeler, is it time for a new direction over at St. Thomas Economic Development Corp?
After 14 years at the helm, the question of a replacement for Wheeler offers intriguing possibilities.
What better person to approach than EDC board president, Dennis Broome, whom we talked to Thursday.
“We’ve struck a committee to look at what we’re going to do,” Dennis informs. “And, we’ll make recommendations. That will happen in November. The upside is we have some pretty competent people there already in Sean (Dyke) and Cindy (Hastings), who’ve been there for a long time and know the ropes. For Sean that’s almost a natural progression. He is a very capable young man.”
A compelling case to bring this bright, young gun to the forefront.
Be it known, this corner has, in the past, leaned in the direction of former MPP Steve Peters with his stuffed Rolodex of contacts.
However, an outside hire may not be in the cards for the EDC.
“My thought is that for going forward right now, there won’t be a replacement,” advises Dennis. “That’s open to the board changing their mind. We’re happy the way things are going.”
Would it be premature, then, to offer congratulations to Sean?
But, let’s backtrack. Why would Wheeler abandon a six-figure salary at this particular point in time or was he not offered a new contract?
“Bob was going to retire three or four years ago,” Dennis explains. “And the contract was extended twice to him. It was time for him to retire. So, that’s what he’s going to do.”
A complaint in the past, from a media perspective, has been the lack of on-going data in a workable format from which we could paint a true picture of the employment situation in St. Thomas.
“One thing people don’t realize – and we probably are remiss in our non-issue of information – is if you take it from when Sterling Trucks left St. Thomas, and take it from that day forward, we’ve actually had a plus-jobs creation in the city in the last three years of almost 800 jobs.”
These include new jobs or hire-backs at Masco, Format, Presstran, London Castings, C.D.C. Warehouse Inc. and Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Dennis points out.
We will pursue this job creation figure in greater depth this week in the Times-Journal, and we appreciate the honesty of Dennis when he concedes the EDC may not always have made available information that would help us portray an accurate jobs picture in St. Thomas.
To counter one critic, we are indeed on the hunt for good news.

It’s mid-September, 2003, and Ald. Gord Campbell has just met with St. Thomas police Chief Bill Lynch to discuss “a serious breach of etiquette” at city hall, to determine if there was enough evidence to warrant an investigation.
Campbell told the Times-Journal at the time he had concerns about “a serious breach of etiquette involving the public works community that has never been resolved.”
The matter at hand involved alleged harassing behaviour that had “demoralized” some members of city hall staff.
We reference this dark chapter only because it has come to the attention of City Scope we should now be asking questions in the environmental services department at city hall about complaints of harassment.
And, we will.
Is this an indication the toxic environment of nine years ago has oozed to the surface again, albeit down a different corridor?

Was the decision to hire Ron Osborne as the new Ascent CEO – replacing the retired Brian Hollywood – unanimously approved by the Ascent board of directors?
Our request to speak with board chairman Jim Herbert has yet to yield a response.

We briefly alluded to Jason McComb last week in this corner. He’s the guy trying to draw attention to Canada’s homeless through his website.
Well, it seems Jason camped out for a spell on the steps of city hall Monday and then attempted to introduce himself to Mayor Heather Jackson.
Hearing who was in the office, she promptly dialed 9-1-1 and four of the city’s finest convinced a bewildered Jason to exit city hall.
Jason tells us he even put on the best of his clothes in order to present the mayor with one of his posters. No ulterior motives whatsoever.
Which prompted the following observation from a member of the DDB board of directors.
“When incidents like this occur I’m concerned. He is a DDB member and local merchant. He pays rent at a storefront on Talbot Street. He has rights! What a shameful situation.”
Maybe if the mayor closes her eyes, Jason and others of the homeless ilk will just disappear.

“The scandal-plagued Liberals have put the government on autopilot with the doors shut and the lights off leaving their reckless spending to go unchecked with no plan to kick-start private sector job creation.”
Elgin-Middlesex-London Conservative MPP Jeff Yurek as he stood on the doorstep of health minister Deb Matthews Friday in London to encourage the Liberal party to end prorogation of the legislature.

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