Candidates for Regional Council Respond to Downtown Development Questions

Each candidate seeking to represent Welland at Regional Council was given the opportunity to answer these eight questions. Here are their submissions:

Shirley Cordiner:

  1. Downtown strengths: The strengths of Welland’s downtown include, having City Hall and the Library located on the Main Street. With these businesses located here they would draw individuals to the main core for meetings etc. The architecture of the old buildings (the court house) can never be replaced. The draw of the market on Saturday mornings,  and illuminaqua in the summer.  The  recreational canal and the easy access for those who wish to walk or bike the trail are readily available.
  2. Downtown weaknesses: The weaknesses are the empty buildings, and other buildings that do house businesses but need some paint and cleaning up. Parking is also an issue.
  3. One-way traffic: I would like to see two way traffic downtown. It is frustrating when coming from the west and having to go around the block to get to businesses on East Main and vice versa for businesses on Division St. I believe it would help businesses to have two  way traffic.  I have seen out of towners going the wrong way on East Main and then panic once they realize they are going the wrong way. Since this is my personal opinion, before any change could happen the downtown business owners  need to be consulted and also open meetings for the public.  There needs to be consultation with other communities who have made this change (St Catharines and others) to see what affect the change to 2 way has made. The  positives and the negatives.
  4. Bike lanes: As far as bike lanes downtown I feel with the amount of traffic that are on those streets and the parking it would be difficult to have more designated bike lanes at this time. If we are going to support having Welland as a walkable community this would include more bike lanes. Motorists need to more aware of where bike lanes now exist and the protocol for bikes when turning left or right.  Well  designed bike lanes that flow through the city and are safe would certainly be an asset. There are already committees set up in the City and at the Region of those that do bike and consultation with them would be a start for increasing the amount of  lanes.  I would like to see more bike lanes in the neighborhoods of our schools, to support children riding to school.
  5. Undeveloped lands & brownfields: As has been identified these sites cast such a negative feeling for the City. I am not sure what, if any bylaws are in place for owners of these sites to remediate them and also for  development.   There could be financial incentives in place by the City and the Region to promote the development of the properties of course  the costs for the incentives  would fall on the shoulders of the taxpayer.
  6. Vacant buildings: I believe the City needs to put a process in place and a bylaw to deal with these empty commercial buildings. On file will be the information on the owners of these buildings, I assume are paying property tax. In consultation with the Downtown Business Association it should be determined how long a building can sit empty before a process takes place to have signage on the building  For Sale or Lease with contact numbers in place.   These empty buildings could create real problems if there happens to be a water main break or a gas leak so that the city should have the right to enter the facility to do any repairs necessary with the costs billed to the owners.
  7. Downtown parking: I found over the past few months when there has been free parking because of the bridge closure it was a great feeling not to have to pay. But I also realize it is a reduction in revenue to the City. I do believe free parking does make it much easier to go downtown, and if parking is free it may draw more people to  visit the retailers in the downtown.  I do not believe that the new parking on East Main is viable. I find drivers are not pulling completely into the parking area so that their cars are still partially on the street and you need to go into the other lane to get around them.
  8. Other: I think many people living in Welland do not realize that the recreational canal area is a community unto itself.  I walk there a lot, and my grandsons fish in the canal.  People always stop to chit chat on a summer day enjoying the water  and the community spirit. There is always something new to discover when you are with children.  Watching the rowers skim over the water very early in the morning is very soothing.    I believe with Illuminaqua this year there were  5 shows.  Why is this stage not opened up to bands, theatre groups and other arts and culture groups.  To have the stage used on a Saturday afternoon or Sunday afternoons by local groups, would be great.  Our young people in the City would have somewhere to go for entertainment.  I am sure sponsorship could be found to support this so that the tickets would be affordable.  This of course would attract more people to the downtown, likely for something to eat or drink. I feel very positive about Welland, that is why I chose to move here.  Strong positive leadership is what is needed with input from the community of what they feel are the priorities for the city and we will move forward with development and more opportunities for employment.

Dave Duffus:

  1. Downtown strengths: It has solid buildings, and some excellent restaurants. It has ample parking if we include the market square.The jewel of downtown is or should be the recreational canal.  Let’s develop more of King Street on the canal side.
  2. Downtown weaknesses: I am told the tax burden on East Main street,  inhibits some businesses. I would wish for residential development downtown.
  3. One-way traffic: I think the one-way traffic,  enhances traffic flow,  but I am not an urban planner.  We have staff to consider that if council requests. I would not change it as it is neither a deterent nor an enabler of a vibrant downtown.
  4. Bike lanes: I favour bike lanes on every street with a safe solution.  I would like to add bike lanes near health centres and education centres like Niagara College.
  5. Undeveloped lands & browfields: I would like to see rezoning for multi-unit residential  even towers if the soil testing indicates it is suitable.   The downtown improves with more residents who can walk to the library, the restaurants, the museum, etc. The Atlas Steel head office on the south side of east main is a candidate for residential, while the plant site on the north side is suited for new institutional or even a train station if passenger rail were adopted as a goal.
  6. Vacant buildings: If a property owner is paying taxes, we cannot compel them to occupy the building.   We can require health and fire safety inspections to determine if they are a risk, which might prompt some property owners to take action.
  7. Downtown parking: Parking is already reasonably priced,  and a cost for prime locations prevents downtown workers from taking all the prime visitor parking spots.   The free parking at market square gives an alternative for the able bodied.   We should perhaps offer more free parking in prime locations, for those with handicapped permits,  but enforce the handicap bylaw very strictly.
  8. Other issues: I believe we should focus on King Street adjacent to the Recreational Canal,  as it could be an attraction for visitors and residents alike.

Paul Grenier

  1. Downtown strengths: Welland’s Downtown is a compact area which can be leveraged to attract people to such an easily defined geography. The architecture of most buildings is unique and should be promoted as such. The Court House is a national treasure; Restaurant Row on East Main can also be a great asset.  Market Square and the Library and City Hall are equally important to promoting the downtown experience.
  2. Downtown Weaknesses: There is no cohesive reason or theme to downtown. The character must be defined like any neighbourhood in any other city; for example, Hess Village in Hamilton, the Annex in Toronto, and The Glebe in Ottawa. I believe that such character for our downtown can and should happen.
  3. One-way traffic: Two way traffic is only one solution to the problem and should not be thought of as the final fix. Ten years ago, on behalf of the Downtown BIA, I presented the idea of two way traffic for Division and East Main Streets to Council and the engineering problem was not necessarily those two streets but that Helems and Burgar Streets are also one way designed to work with East Main and Division streets for better traffic flow. The cost of changing direction of all four roads could be prohibitive.  If Region and City Staff can review again and come to a different conclusion, I would be in favour of revisiting the idea. I believe we should be looking at changes in sidewalk size, angled parking and street-scaping. The real issue is one of definition: street vs. road.  We would like a street with connection to people and place and the Region views East Main and Division Streets as roads moving traffic between cities.
  4. Bike lanes: Bike lanes are part of the Transportation Plan for Niagara and Welland is a participant in the plan and works with the Region to expand the use of these lanes. Downtown is no exception.
  5. Undeveloped lands & brownfields: The City has passed two CIP programs – one on brownfields and the other for all of Downtown and King Street to Ontario Road. These programs offer incentives for development of these properties. Welland High has been re-zoned for housing and is awaiting development from the owner.
  6. Vacant buildings: Vacant buildings can be held to the same property standards as those buildings around then. I believe the city should be more aggressive enforcing a minimum standard particularly in the Downtown. However, the BIA could be a partner by requesting such enforcement.
  7. Downtown parking: Timed Free Parking could work in some areas. The current two hour experiment during the bridge closure seems to have been successful. Loading zone or pick-up zones of 15 minutes could also be used effectively.
  8. Other issues: Until the definition of the streets vs. road issue is confronted, the Region and Welland will be adversaries and not partners.  My role will be to resolve this issue and then work with business owners and both tiers to create a better Downtown for Welland.

Graham Speck:

  1. Downtown strengths: The recent investments with the painting of the bridge, the new city hall, the historic court house are all things that Wellanders should be proud of. The people that love our downtown core and wish to see it thrive again are our biggest asset. Hopefully the CIP and the co-ordinated effort that will come from it with be the kick start that the downtown needs. Hopefully the attractiveness of the first two blocks will be repeated further up the street.
  2. Downtown weaknesses: generation that has been accustomed to big box stores and malls. We generally park the car, and want everything as convenient as possible. The parking problems, the chance of bad weather, the possibility of having to go back to the car to move it, and the rise of online shopping as lead to the decline of downtowns across North America.
  3. One-way traffic: I like the “normalcy” of a two way street. I believe that it does make it easier to get where you are going. The concept of a one way street seems to imply “move along” and “keep going”. the complicating factor that Welland’s downtown has the curved Division Street bridge, which complicates any efforts to make both streets two ways. I will note that East Main and Division street (for the majority of it) are Regional roads, and if East Main were made two way, Division Street might revert back to a city road, so city hall picks up the tab to repair it (not like it being a Regional Road has done it any favours). However, how the lanes on the lift bridge meet West Main Street, and how the the lanes of Niagara meet the Division Street bridge are the biggest road blocks (no pun intended). It is not just a case of switch some signs and make it two way. The Niagara Street, Division Street, and Main Streets intersection would need major work. I don’t know if there is a petition to do this or not. I would be responsive if I learned that property owners on East Main wanted this to be done. We should look into downtown St. Catharines and if making St. Paul Street two way has lead to an increase in business or traffic to their downtown core.
  4. Bike lanes: My thoughts are that travelling westbound on East Main after the traffic circle is a mess. I am referring to the left turning lanes and the bike lanes. It is confusing. I see car traffic getting pinched off and stitching lanes suddenly, which is not good for anyone on a bike, whether they are in a bike lane or not. I think that the bike lanes are necessary. I see many people riding their bikes, and many e-scooters using the lanes too. I am not sure if this is ok with other cyclists or if this is allowed. Bottom line is the road is wide enough, people are using them, and we should keep what we have and run them all the way down East Main.
  5. Undeveloped lands & brownfields: The CIP is trying to put a “sale” on development fees to interest parties coming to invest in Welland. In my platform I speak about eliminating all of the Region’s development fees to permanently to encourage investment in Welland. Business is about making money, and if a developer crunches the numbers and finds that a project will lose money, the project is dead. We need a pro business approach to help private investors to see that money can be made in Welland, and these large central parcels of land are ideal locations.
  6. Vacant buildings: Unfortunately private property is just that, private. The city has no power to dictate what an owner does with a property as long as the taxes are paid and there are no building code violations. We would assume that a commercial property would be used for commercial purposes, and that an owner would not want to pay taxes only to have it sit idle.  However we cannot force anyone to invest money or open a business.
  7. Downtown parking: The mall has free parking, Wal-Mart has free parking, the downtown needs free parking too. Business owners need to encourage employees not to park in ideal spots, and leave those for customers. We do not have the problem of too many cars coming to downtown Welland, we have the problem of not enough.
  8. Other issues: The CIP was approved and hopefully the co-ordinated effort that it brings will be the kick start that the downtown needs. Businesses need to make money to survive, and hopefully the beautification of the core and the construction that will take place will make businesses viable and bring the revitalization that we need. The Region’s direct impact is the roads, and Division Street is in desperate need of repaving. I don’t know why it has been allowed to get as bad as it is, if there is sewer work underneath that needs doing so it needs to be dug up, but it will be one of the first things that I look into as a councillor.

These questions were posed to all of the candidates. George Marshall, Art Orlando, David Robert, and Thies Bogner 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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Dates for Candidate Responses

Over the next eight days, candidate responses to the 8 questions on the Wellandarium Downtown Development survey will be posted here. Details:

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

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…

TheHardWay: What did it mean and where do we go from here?

FinalHardWay

Well, it’s over. We did it. We planned and it worked. Wide sidewalks, planters, lots of seating, big windows, cool art, interesting events, something to drink, and a lovely view of a historic landmark across the street. These are the ingredients for successful placemaking and for four weeks in late July and early August, we created a successful little public place (with a very busy schedule) at the corner of Hellems Ave and Division St in downtown Welland.

We were embraced by the growing community of people interested in regenerating Welland into a liveable, sustainable, determined and resourceful city. We proved wrong the (shrinking) “nobody goes downtown” crowd. The people who came out to TheHardWay confirmed something written by Jason Segedy a few weeks ago as we were starting this project:

Those of us that came of age during the great economic unraveling and (still painful) transition from the Great [North] American Manufacturing Belt to the Rust Belt might just be in a better position to understand our challenges, and to find the creative solutions required to meet them head-on. Those of us that stuck it out and still live here, know where we came from. We’re under no illusions about who we are or where we live. I think Della Rucker was on to something when she listed what we can bring to the table:

  • Determination
  • Long-game focus
  • Understanding the depth of the pit and the long way left to climb out of it
  • Resourcefulness
  • Ability to salvage
  • Expectation that there are no easy answers
  • Disinclination to believe that everything will be all right if only we do this One Big Thing

When I look at this list, I see pragmatism, resilience, self-knowledge, survival skills, and leadership. It all rings true. (Confessions of a Rust-belt orphan)

From day one, many patrons of the TheHardWay asked us what they could do to keep TheHardWay going. Even on closing night I had a few discussions with people who were looking for ways to keep the place open. It was difficult to reinforce that TheHardWay was a temporary project. And perhaps that was a good problem to have. Perhaps TheHardWay is a beginning. Other projects have been discussed. To those who would like to see another TheHardWay, I offer some advice from Pete Seeger: “If someone says, ‘I want to change the world. Where do I go?’ I answer: ‘Stay right where you are. Don’t run away. Dig in.’”

So dig in. It’s all Welland good…

WellandGood

TheHardWay: Week 3 of 4

43Lights

Week three at TheHardWay was the busiest yet, with events happening every night. Here are some photos…

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J. Sauder played his first gig as Venus Sans Fur (photo by Craig Hotrod)

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Sauder was joined by guitarist Pete Weinhandl for a set of VSF originals and a few Ween classics thrown in for good measure.

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The boys were assisted by the World’sGreatestRoadie, captured in action by photographer T. Lee Kindy.

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Open Art Night was a memorable one…

CommunityArtShow

The Community Art Show provided members of the community an opportunity to show off their 4×6 impressions of Welland.

The week was capped off with a Saturday night concert featuring groups associated with Blacktop Records…

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Revive the Rose

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The Canyon Carvers

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The Smile Case

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And, by popular demand, we finally have these gems available. One printing only. When they’re gone, they’re gone.

Two weeks in: Taking stock of TheHardWay

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We are now half-way through this little experiment called TheHardWay. The purpose of this gallery & community commons has always been to get as many people out to 43 Hellems Ave as possible to enjoy (and maybe even purchase) some of the superb art being produced by Welland artists. We are trying to get local art out of the shadows and private spaces and into a public place with regular hours, large windows, and a welcoming atmosphere. So how is this little experiment in local art and placemaking coming along? How have the community, the artists, and city officials responded? Two weeks in, here are some of the results:

The Community
TheHardWay received around 200 visitors at its grand opening and is attracting between 20-50 visitors each day. A friend who works at a major Ontario art gallery tells me there are days when they don’t see that many people. There are people visiting TheHardWay telling me they had no idea Welland’s arts scene was so rich. Most of the growing number of artists exhibiting have sold work; pieces from $5 prints to $800 paintings have gone home with enthusiastic buyers. In fact, half the artists exhibiting sold pieces on our first day of operation alone. Artists I had never heard of are coming out of the woodwork and visiting the place. Some have been invited to exhibit. That’s how a community commons works. The amount of people checking out local art, hanging out, and buying pieces has already made TheHardWay an overwhelming success. The public has shown that there is a desire to support local arts in Welland. We hope TheHardWay has been a welcoming, accessible place to help them along in that pursuit.

The Artists
When TheHardWay was first discussed, several artists were eager to take advantage of the opportunity and their actions over the last few weeks have been exciting and revealing. Most understand that this is a unique opportunity to share their work with the community and sell some stuff. Nothing is being asked of them. No commissions are being collected. There are no fees to exhibit. All we ask is they make cool art. Some have organized activities and workshops. Some have volunteered to oversee family open art afternoons Mondays through Thursdays. Others have stepped up and promoted one anothers’ work. A sing-along recording for an upcoming TheHardWay EP is forthcoming. Microbiology cross-stitch created some curious creatures. The first Canadian appearance of American artist Chad Godt showed off some riveting work. There are many ideas brewing at TheHardWay in all their glory every day.  Local artists have flourished, artists from the Welland diaspora have returned home to exhibit, and we’ve discovered new artists who have emerged from the shadows with interesting work. By any given metric, I think that qualifies as a success.

City Hall
Some members of Welland’s municipal government realized the purpose of TheHardWay on day one. Over the last two weeks I’ve been approached by a surprising number of municipal officials about keeping TheHardWay going after its August 15th closing date. The possibility of funding has been discussed. While this is not something I am prepared to do, I would be thrilled to guide someone in taking over TheHardWay so that it may continue its operations. It would, of course have to be the right person with the right attitude. It’s a lot of work that involves managing a variety of personalities, but the payoff – the celebration of great local art – is more than worth it.

So where do we go from here? It is my hope that the final two weeks of TheHardWay are as exciting as the first two. We have a lot of exciting events coming up. The quiet periods are rare. It is our hope that this little street corner will continue to be a hive of activity as people gather for coffee, enjoy the view and converse with their neighbours. And when August 15th comes? Perhaps some brave souls will be inspired to try something similar. Our downtown is coming to life. There is room for everyone’s ideas.

Thank you to our sponsors for helping us out in our little endeavour: Cathy Berkhout-Bosse, myWelland.com, The Welland Tribune, Bujold Colburn & Steele, and Pen Financial Credit Union.

This Friday at TheHardWay…

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This Friday,  July 25th, TheHardWay will be showcasing the art of visiting artist Chad Godt.

Chad Godt has participated in exhibitions throughout the United States. His art has been involved in charitable events such as Hunger for the Arts, Earth Day and breast cancer awareness activities. Chad has participated in several performance art projects with artists in Phoenix and Raleigh. He has also collaborated with the Theatre Department of Paradise Valley Community College in Phoenix on sets and scenery for play productions. This Friday’s show at TheHardWay will be Chad Godt’s Canadian debut.

ARTIST STATEMENT
“I want my work to be a quiet, contemplative moment of meditation and inspiration
amid the chaos, a chance to reflect on who we are in this life and to dream of our potentials. I am exploring the act of being human. As we struggle to become better than who we are and to achieve our highest potential, we are constantly reminded of our human restraints through mistakes and bad decisions. Yet, on occasion, we manage to overcome our failures and grasp onto those rare moments of perfection and see that quiet potential within us; The perfect act at the perfect moment when we are greater than what the world has offered us. What I am capturing in my works are moments of perfection, appreciated through times of despair. My work emphasizes the small and the unnoticed.  It is the details that separate us, that make us individual.  The unknown and unnoticed moments that make up the whole, shape us into what we are.  By finding beauty in the ugly and insignificant we bring value to it and recognize that it is the very things we take for granted or are unaware of that can have the greatest effect on us.”

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TheHardWay: Day Two

TheHardWay opened up at 8:00 last night (here’s a report from Greg Furminger) and the party lasted well into the wee hours. Over 200 people made their way through the doors over the course of the night. Many thanks to all who participated. Thanks also to Bucky’s Bar & Grill for the food and drinks. If you haven’t stopped by yet, come have a look; we’re open every day until 15 August. Here are some pictures from last night…

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WellandGood

TheHardWay: Today is the day!

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View from TheHardWay, 43 Hellems Ave: Welland’s Old Central Fire Hall

It all begins at 8:00 tonight: the grand opening of TheHardWay Gallery & Community Commons. Tonight we begin our four-week experiment in local art & placemaking in Welland. We also celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Black Lantern Experience arts group. What will become of it all? We will soon find out. Be sure to check out the calendar of events for what we’ll be doing over the next four weeks.