Ward 1 Candidates Respond to Downtown Development Questions

Each candidate seeking to represent Welland’s Ward 1 was given the opportunity to answer these eight questions. Here are their submissions:

Mark Carl:

  1. Downtown strengths: There has been an influx of small businesses and restaurants that have breathed some life back into the downtown. There is a solid core group of citizens that support the downtown and want to see it revitalized and this must continue. Marketing the downtown and continuing to offer Community Improvement Incentives (CIP) to the downtown investors to make improvements to their buildings. The green spaces throughout the downtown are an important component of beautification and attracting new businesses. Along with Arts and Culture in key areas will bring people downtown. .
  2. Downtown weaknesses: The downtown does not have the capacity or the physical space to support a large cluster residents, which help to attract innovators and investments.
  3. One-way traffic: St.Catharines recently made a change to their one way streets and so it would be valuable to consult with them as to the effect it had on bringing people into the downtown. I believe it would increase people coming to the down town core.
  4. Bike lanes: I think that we have enough bike lanes and on East Main Street, the widened bike lane can be distracting. We have great trails which also provide spaces for bikers to enjoy.
  5. Undeveloped lands & brownfields: Research on the use of brownfield areas continues to be ongoing and is certainly valuable to consider. The key is finding a potential avenue that would be profitable to be sustainable and good for the environment.
  6. Vacant buildings: There is a need for council to continue to put the resources in place to enforce the Vacant building Bylaw and continue to provide a solution based strategy to deal with absentee landlords and ambiguous housing situations. In 2010 Welland City Council passed a vacant building bylaw that focuses the attention on the landlord to maintain their builds. The challenge is that it could take over a year to the courts to fully enforce the law. It has proven effect but requires enforcement resources. Also the Downtown Community Improvement Plan (CIP) worked on and passed by council offers excellent incentivises for owners to invest, improve and reutilize building for new uses.
  7. Downtown parking: Parking meters are an obstacle in attracting business and visitors to the downtown. Two hour parking is a must to attracting people downtown. However, bylaw must enforce the two hour parking limits to stop business workers from taking all the parking spot.
  8. Other issues: Niagara College Student housing would help bring students and investment to the Downtown. Residential condos along the waterfront would help bring people and investment to the downtown.

Mary Ann Grimaldi:

  1. Downtown strengths: I have lived all over the world and without a doubt our Welland Canal is our biggest asset, ultimate strength and focal point running right through our downtown core. In Europe a Canal is the focus and centre of their downtown. Especially the section between Main Street and Lincoln would be open to the public for pleasure cruising, public sporting, vendors to set up and kiosks along the shore lines. An endless amount of possibilities would be looked at and taken advantage of. The City was built around the Canal by many immigrants from all over the world that brought their ideas with them. Thus, the beautiful Tribute to all the workers who built the Welland Canal at Merritt Park is very warm and welcoming and so could our Canal. We have a beautiful WIFC for tournaments but that too could be utilized for more activities. The stage now operated by the WRCC at a loss could be taken back by the city for free entertainment. We have a superb Welland Market Facility with local products that needs to be marketed throughout Ontario as an outstanding facility. We have to stop selling ourselves short by limiting the use of our Canal and Assets built on it. We also need to be transparent in making those decisions so the people of Welland can participate and understand why we are doing things. The possibilities are endless.
  2. Downtown weaknesses: Parking is a definite problem. The two hour free parking on the downtown roads should continue all year. We now have a CIP for the downtown, with much public consultation but we need to work on fulfilling the CIP. We have done a number of public brainstorming session’s downtown that I can speak to from 2003 when I first was elected to Council and are ongoing but have we need to implement these ideas and move forward. We need to do this in co-operation with all the businesses, public and non-profits we have in Welland.
  3. One-way traffic: Two-way traffic has been discussed and looked into over and over.  Personally I’m not sure that traffic flow is a problem. I would leave the one way traffic as is. People have become accustomed to the traffic routes. Also to do a change to two way traffic would be expensive. I would need to be convinced that somehow two way traffic would be an asset in developing a vibrant downtown.
  4. Bike lanes: I feel that bikes lanes are good for our community. Riding a bike provides physical fitness, helps reduce stress and tension and is a healthy practice to be actively involved with. Plus the fact we cut down on emission gases from vehicles. The biggest issue is budgeting for all the different types of infrastructure rather than putting all our money into select projects. “Putting all our eggs into one basket” so to speak is not good planning and does not contribute to the overall growth of the city.
  5. Undeveloped lands & brownfields: This is a complicated issue as a number of them are privately owned.  The City has to work with the individual owners to have these vacant properties developed. There are both Federal and Provincial grants available to help these owners financially. The municipality can also promote freezing of property taxes at the current rate to help them get going. The City can also use this as infilling to existing established areas therefore holding off on development fees. We could use our internal resources when looking at attracting business and industry to prioritize these lands for development. I think everyone realizes that rebuilding the downtown and making it more vibrant would attract other businesses—it is a kind of success building on success.
  6. Vacant buildings: The City has to work with the Downtown Business Association to provide incentives to promote new business development. This can be achieved financially through grants and or interest free loans. Partnerships have to be developed to assist new business with advice and help so that they survive the beginning stages to become successful.
  7. Downtown parking: This has always been an issue with our merchants. The parking lot behind City Hall should be for the public also with two hour free parking. No city vehicles or special privilege parking allowed unless there are crucial operational needs. We could use the market square for most of staff parking.
  8. Other issues: Solutions as a council. First we need to be an informed Council and work together in order to provide leadership which I believe is a critical factor in revitalizing our downtown core. It doesn’t work if we just talk the talk. It’s time to walk the walk together with business in the downtown core. We need to take a collective and proactive approach. We need to be open, transparent and accountable in all our decisions. We need to be aware of businesses in trouble before they leave and reach out to help find solutions. We need to work together along with our Chamber of Commerce, WDBIA and our Economic Development Commission. We as a Council have to budget funds to promote our downtown. Businesses and industry in this community should see city hall as a partner not as an impediment.  We spend a lot of money on advertising that we are Champions so now it’s time to live up to it.

Margaret Moroz:

  1. Downtown strengths: Welland has a great downtown but businesses continue to fail because of constant construction. Hopefully this can stop for a while. We have beautiful walk ways and the open market. As I was growing up here we had many businesses.
  2. Downtown weaknesses: The problem with Welland Main Street is it goes to nowhere. Most people use the bi-pass and do not frequently use Main Street as a way to get to the 140. We have a great down town but few people stop here. The marketing of events and the Arts is a significant way of bringing people to the core to support local economy, but it is a struggle. Welland residents need to be offered more in the city to attract them to Main St. Car shows, soap box derbies, bike -a- thons, art shows or fairs, free concerts are all ways of growing the core.
  3. One-way traffic: One way traffic is a question for logistics and for city transportation to look at in terms of feasibility. We seem to be going in circles around town to get anywhere. Main St. has been made over and has lost many parking spaces to aesthetic sidewalks and curbs and meridians. Thye take up a lot of space. While beautifying the street, this has no real purpose in some instances.
  4. Bike lanes: Bike lanes are definitely purposeful and safe for pedestrians as well as bicyclists.
  5. Undeveloped lands & brownfields: Many brownfield lands are not being used. Why would the city allow a solar development on Ridge Road, an area of farm land and natural habitat for wildlife, and on top of an aquifer used by many as a primary source of clean drinking water for rural residents? This development could and should have been developed on a vacant industrial site.
  6. Vacant buildings: [incorporated into #5]
  7. Downtown parking: Limited free parking works because it allows spaces to be available to shoppers.
  8. Other issues; The youth of our city and artisans have some great ideas as well. No idea should be dismissed or not considered. With people talking and collaborating on this problem ,things can happen to “All Well and good”.

Doug Thomas:

  1. Downtown strengths: 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. Downtown 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. One-way traffic: 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. Bike lanes: 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. Undeveloped lands 7 brownfields: 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. Vacant buildings: 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. 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. Other issues: 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.

These questions were posed to all of the candidates in Ward 1. James Nicol and Chris Primerano did not respond.

The Posts:
Wednesday 8 October: Regional Council Candidate Responses
Thursday 9 October: Ward 1 Candidate Responses
Friday 10 October: Ward 2 Candidate Responses
Saturday 11 October: Ward 3 Candidate Responses
Sunday 12 October: Ward 4 Candidate Responses
Monday 13 October: Ward 5 Candidate Responses
Tuesday 14 October: Ward 6 Candidate Responses
Wednesday 15 October: Mayoral Candidate Responses

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