Tuesday, March 02, 2010

A Dark Day?

First of all, let me say to the party or parties involved with the posting of the sign: why didn't you do that before I was downtown taking some photographs? I would have gladly included that in my blog posting from yesterday.

With that said, there is a groundswell of interest in what may or may not happen with the south side of Colborne Street. Today the local paper carried an article regarding a letter from the Ministry of Tourism and Culture. There is some concern now being expressed at Queen's Park about the demolition of the south side of the street. The opening paragraphs expressed this interest:
City officials are trying to get to the bottom of a surprise letter from the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, hoping it won't present another unexpected "bump" in plans to demolish 40 buildings on the south side of downtown Colborne Street.

The letter, from Chris Schiller, manager of culture of the ministry's culture services unit, informed the city that the ministry has taken an interest in the city's demolition plans and requests that it conduct a full assessment under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act of the stretch of properties slated for imminent demolition.

According to the letter, obtained by The Expositor, the assessment is to include a "thorough heritage evaluation ... prior to any demolition of the properties noted to satisfy that there is no provincial interest in these properties."

The letter also requests that the city carry out an archaeological assessment "required" under the province's regulations for determining archaeological potential -"prior to any ground disturbances and/or site alterations."

I suspect, among other things, the city leaders must be getting frustrated that there is now all this interest, when for so many years none was being expressed. It seems only when the City has decided to expropriate the property and them come up with the idea of tearing it all down, that people are now coming out and saying the South should be saved. I do confess even written a blog or two about the south side as well.

Recently, a blog regarding the downtown showed up in the Spacing Toronto website. This site is the online presence of the great Canadian magazine "Spacing", for which I do have a subscription to, at least I do remember renewing it, I'll have to check. The article, written by Nigel Terpstra is entitled "Brantford's downtown destruction". Even thought the article features a photograph of part of the north side of Colborne, which was pointed out in some of the comments, Nigel does make some interesting points. He writes:
Both the mayor and the town’s councillors seem to believe that developers will flock to the newly vacated space, but the chances of this happening are slim. Furthermore, when the older structures are torn down, the individual parcels of land upon which they stood will be too small to be developed on their own and will therefore be bundled into bigger and more profitable tracts. The buildings which will be built on these new lots will also be larger and will contain fewer opportunities for individual retailers to establish themselves, changing scale of the street completely. It seems therefore, that what we are faced with is less the surgical removal of a specific set of structures in an effort to revive a larger precinct, than the clear cutting of three blocks at the whim of a pro-development city council.

It is simple enough to say the council is simply pro-development and does believe the notion that the best thing to do with the old is tear down and construct something brand new in its place.

It has been pointed out by many, the south side was not devoid of life, there were shops and restaurants, some that survived years in their location. They had built a strong and loyal customer base and brought some people into the core.

They thrived despite the environment which was not the healthiest.

The response of the City has been to seek clarification and to understand. The same article in the Expositor pointed out none of the properties have ever been declared heritage property, meaning they have been changed.

So what happens now? That is the good question. I wonder if the Ministry responding to pressure, or do they want to ensure all is being done according to the rules. If they are interested in considering the preservation aspect, will they release some money for restoration?

So I ask myself the questions:

1) is the only answer to the problem, raze and rebuild?
2) is the University the panacea to all the ills, or a part of the solution, an important part indeed, but still part.
3) how can the city ensure that the downtown is the fun place to be in Brantford
4) how to bring about the critical mass of people consistently downtown so there is reason for business to become established.

When there is something happening, people do come downtown. The challenge is not only bring people for the special events, but ensure they think of coming downtown when they want to do something.

1 comment:

stevex said...

I don't really know how heritage buildings get their funding for restoration but it seems to me it would only be fair for the government to be paying for a good chunk of it. (It's certainly not fair to tell a property owner that their property is now heritage and force a bunch of new costs on them to restore it without help).

So if the government, meaning the taxpayers, are going to be footing the bill, the buildings should be buildings the public thinks are worth preserving.

I wonder how many residents of Brantford think this?

Given that the support for saving the buildings has been so long in coming, and from what I've seen, seems to be coming from a vocal few, I wonder what the public would think of the costs of paying for restoring them?

How do you think a referendum that asked residents to trade off improvements to the Gretzky center, or a lower tax increase, against paying for restoring these buildings, would go?