Downtown Survey for 2014 Municipal Candidates

Over the last half-century or so, Welland – along with many North American cities – has suburbanized, deindustrialized, and abandoned its downtown. Recently, Welland’s downtown core has shown some signs of life. Some businesses have moved in, a Community Improvement Plan (CIP) is in the works, and some interesting community-driven projects have been popping up. It has been the position of this blog that a healthy downtown is an important component of a healthy city. So, what are the next steps for revitalizing the heart of this town? I have posed the following questions to each of the candidates running in this fall’s municipal elections. I will post responses from the candidates who submit them. I will not edit the responses. I have no agenda other than to see a healthy, thriving downtown Welland in my lifetime. I look forward to some interesting ideas. Results will be posted over the next two weeks. Here are the questions…

I have asked each candidate to be as specific in his/her responses as possible, offering details, evidence, and examples where they can.

1. What are the strengths of Welland’s downtown?

2. What are its weaknesses?

3. What are your thoughts about one-way traffic downtown? Please defend your position. If you feel it should be changed, how might you go about achieving this change?

4. What are your thoughts about bike lanes in downtown Welland? Do we have too many? Enough? Not enough? Are there priority areas you feel would benefit from bike lanes? How might you address this issue?

5. There are several parcels of undeveloped land that have languished in downtown Welland. Three examples that have been discussed in this blog are the sites of the former Welland High, Atlas Steels, and Guardian Express buildings. All of these sites are on Main St. There are brownfield issues associated with at least one. What is the best way to develop these lands?

6. Some downtown commercial buildings have been vacant for years. Some of these buildings have no rental or sale information available. Some are owned by absentee landlords. How can this be addressed?

7. Do you see any benefit in offering people free parking downtown? Are there any changes you would make to downtown parking?

8. What other issues do you feel are concerns for downtown Welland? What else can you, in your position on council, do to help the downtown develop and thrive?

Prime Minister Kim Campbell famously said that an election is no time to discuss serious issues. My hope is the candidates in this fall’s election will prove that sentiment wrong. We will see…

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14 thoughts on “Downtown Survey for 2014 Municipal Candidates

  1. Doug Thomas – Candidate in Ward 1 Welland, and downtown denizen since 1987 proudly carrying on business on East Main Street since 1991 or 1992 (or so – the years tend to run together when you have been here so long.)

    1. What are the strengths of Welland’s downtown?

    The court house and City Hall. Great restaurants and service businesses. Affordable Gyms. A downtown ambiance. We are the heart and soul of a new Welland, with good local restaurants and are becoming the entertainment heart of the City.

    2. What are its weaknesses?

    We do not have weaknesses. We have strengths that need to be made stronger.

    We need even more street side ambiance with more patios for the summer, and a return of music to City Hall – like the Niagara Jazz Society put used to put on , or as someone told me today, a new model for Illuminaqua with free concerts paid for by sponsorship every Friday night.

    Dynamic partnership with Rose City Kids for a concert series in the Theatre, or movement of Cinefest downtown.

    An Art Studio, like “The Hard Way” but on a more permanent basis. As I am not particularly artistic, I can not make recommendations as to what it should be or have.

    Signage on the Canal Path letting Cyclotourists know what is available in the downtown.

    Seating at the Canal Terrace, as was in the bid documents, and dropped for some reason unknown to me.

    3. What are your thoughts about one-way traffic downtown? Please defend your position. If you feel it should be changed, how might you go about achieving this change?

    Two way traffic has been held out as a panacea to downtown problems. I don’t see that switching to 2 way traffic would make a lot of difference. East Main is still the major artery to Niagara Street for people travelling across the City. The Division Street Bridge was designed for One Way Traffic. Turning left onto the East Main Bridge from Niagara Street would be problematic. Getting to the southbound lane of East Main at King Street would be problematic. Putting two way traffic down roads specifically designed for one way traffic would be a problem. Coordinating all of this with the Region would be a major bureaucratic job. I wish it was not so, but it is like putting toothpaste back in the tube – so much more difficult than getting it out.

    We should not be afraid to consider alternatives, like closing East Main for special events over the summer months – bands, car shows, special events etc.

    4. What are your thoughts about bike lanes in downtown Welland? Do we have too many? Enough? Not enough? Are there priority areas you feel would benefit from bike lanes? How might you address this issue?

    We need to use the Canal Paths as a central solution, with bikes lanes on roads going from them.

    We need a bike map, and a plan for bikes to use certain roads. One cross city road on the East Side is Hagar Street. It is very wide, and could be a central city bike lane to the Canal.

    For the downtown, we need bike lanes that make people feel safe, so that they will get off the sidewalks. Just because I ride with the traffic, and have for 45 years does not mean that most people feel safe riding in traffic. They do not.

    There are no bikes lanes on any of the bridges across the canal. This is a concern, but the bridges are Regional Roads.

    5. There are several parcels of undeveloped land that have languished in downtown Welland. Three examples that have been discussed in this blog are the sites of the former Welland High, Atlas Steels, and Guardian Express buildings. All of these sites are on Main St. There are brownfield issues associated with at least one. What is the best way to develop these lands?

    I do not know. We worked hard to get the Guardian Express Building torn down, as it was a serious mould hazard. Cleaning up the Brownfields may be a very expensive proposition. The highest and best use may be parkland for the present. The issue is how to deal with heavy metal pollution of the soils.

    The Welmet lands which you did not identify, were given to Terrasan in 2008, and then the WRCC spent the remediation funds of about $3 million to clean up the lands. The lands are vacant, as Terrasan did not do the clean up, and now the lands will fall back into the city’s arms for arrears of taxes, and we will either let it sit until “heck” freezes over, or we will spend numerous millions of tax payers dollars to clean it up, because we blew the remediation funds on stuff like a survey to find out that there was no sponsorship funds for the Welland International Flatwater Centre.

    6. Some downtown commercial buildings have been vacant for years. Some of these buildings have no rental or sale information available. Some are owned by absentee landlords. How can this be addressed?

    Did you know that the municipal taxes on one of these “abandoned” building could be $20,000.00 per year?

    One of the reasons that these buildings are empty is the rent that small businesses have to pay in order to rent them. I am in an office that was a small business owned Paul Richardson in the early 2000’s. He sold curios and all sorts of interesting things. He found it difficult to make ends meet, and the downtown beautification construction ended the dream for the businesses here at this time.

    We now have a core of viable service businesses and restaurants. We have only one or two retail businesses, and it would be nice to have more, but it is difficult for small shops to compete with the big box stores and the mall. Boutique or niche stores attracted to the number of captive shoppers (lawyers, court staff, city staff, accounting firms etc,) might be our best hope, but we need to attract stores that will sell items that people buy regularly, which is tough for boutique stores.

    It is not that hard to find out who owns the abandoned stores. It costs $18.00 or $19.00 for search of the title, and it can be done from most lawyers office for a fee or at the Registry office in St. Catharines for free.

    7. Do you see any benefit in offering people free parking downtown? Are there any changes you would make to downtown parking?

    The benefit is that people who are drawn to a mall for free parking will come downtown for free parking. The problem is that the free parking spots will be taken up people attending court, by City staff and employees of the businesses if there is no enforcement of a time limit, which costs money, that paid parking would pay for.

    The question is how much free parking will cost if it is limited to 1 or 2 hours, and who will pay for the costs of enforcement.

    A middle point may be to offer free parking on weekends and after 4:30 p.m, which is something like we have now, except that it starts at 6:00 p.m.

    There is free parking at the market square. The time that we need more people downtown is nights and weekends. Parking is already free for them. Free parking on weekday afternoons does nothing to deal with the problems of people coming downtown for supper and on weekends.

    8. What other issues do you feel are concerns for downtown Welland? What else can you, in your position on council, do to help the downtown develop and thrive?

    I would like to see students moved out of their illegal rooming houses in Ward 1 and brought downtown. That may require revisions of the transit schedule, and enforcement of the R-1 Zoning of almost all of Ward 1.

    I have worked in the downtown for 27 years. Some people tell me that they do not feel safe downtown, so we need to take the steps to make the suburbanites feel safe in our downtown, so that they will come downtown to shop and eat.

    We need to better utilize our existing apartment and house stock to bring more affluent residents into the downtown.

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