Welcome friends, pull up a chair and grab yourself a hot cup of coffee and let’s chat for a while about our Windsor City Council’s decision last night to convert ground-floor retail space to parking in the Pelissier Street parking garage.
I watched the Council proceedings last night from the comfort of my leather couch at home, but what I witnessed during this four-hour Pelissier St. parking garage fiasco was anything but comforting.
We have a serious problem with our current Council. Early on in 2015, I tagged them the ‘six to four’ council based on their pattern of lockstep voting that became all too evident. And since that time, they have lived up to this tag – as demonstrated again last night.
Anchoring the ‘six camp’ are Councillor’s Francis, Gignac, Payne and Borrelli with backup assistance frequently offered by Elliott and Sleiman. The ‘four camp’ is made up of Bortolin, Holt, Marra and Kusmierczyk. The former group is heavily influenced by the direction set and positions held by the Mayor, Drew Dilkens, who often will cast a vote with them, even when it’s not a tie breaking vote.
Last night before a special meeting of Council our elected body dealt once again with the issue of what to do with the Pelissier Street parking garage ground-floor. Constructed in 1979, this garage was originally built with ground-level parking and then later converted to ground-level retail storefronts in 1983/84 when the City entered into a 20 year lease agreement with C. Mady Leaseholds Inc. Eight commercial units were constructed with a total of 14,250 square feet of space. The Mady group’s 20 year lease agreement expired in 2004 and they opted out of the option for a further 20 year renewal of the lease. As a result of the Mady decision, the City assumed the role of Landlord for this commercial space.
The Pelissier Street parking garage issue has had far too many days before City Council, both in public forum as well as in camera sessions. The only other downtown property matter I can recall being dealt with more frequently over a long period of time is the downtown ‘Western Super Anchor’ – and there are still many detractors who do not believe the city got that decision right.
From an economic point of view in terms of budgetary concerns, the full leasing of the Pelissier Street retail space vis-a-vis the conversion back to ground-level parking is a wash. So, from a dollars and cents point of view, either decision could make financial sense. But last night the Windsor City Council voted to restore ground-level parking to the Pelissier Street parking garage and eliminate the retail space in a 6 to 4 vote, with the Mayor voting with ‘six camp’.
It’s no secret that the City of Windsor has struggled for decades – yes decades – in terms of the rehabilitation, restoration and renaissance of what was a once bristling and vibrant downtown. The slow decline of Windsor’s downtown is not unique to the city itself. For example, our sister city, London, has over the years experienced a similar decline with the growth of suburban malls, big-box stores, and expanding suburban neighborhoods draining the city core.
However, I believe we are on the precipice of some exciting and revitalizing downtown endeavors. The ongoing investment by St. Clair College and the University of Windsor in expanding their campuses to the downtown core has been nothing less than remarkable. The new Catholic Central High School project recently announced for the site the Wyandotte East Water World property is equally exciting. Of course, these initiatives piggyback on the already strong presence and influence of Caesars Windsor, the downtown Aquatic Center, the Riverfront Festival Plaza and Stage, the beautifully restored Capitol Theatre, the Art Gallery and Chimczuk Museum, the recently renovated D &C Tunnel plaza, and the new downtown Windsor Transit Terminal. And all of this bordered to the north by our amazing riverfront park system and incredible international skyline.
I call this momentum. We are arcing in a positive direction to reclaiming our once proud downtown. So then why, in the midst of this positive growth, would Council opt for adding additional parking spaces over retail space in a city already rich in parking opportunities? It is simply baffling. Led by lead vocalist. Mayor Dilkens, Councillor’s Gignac, Payne, Borrelli, Sleiman, Elliott, Francis embraced the Joni Mitchell tune: “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘Till it’s gone; They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”
Two of the most bizarre comments from the victor’s side came from Councillor Borrelli and Elliott. Borrelli tried to reassure the viewing public that even though he is voting to restore ground-level parking to the Pelissier Parking Garage, he is comforted by the fact that “it can always be returned to retail space in the future if the need exists”. Really? You got to be kidding! You can’t really be serious, Councillor Borrelli…
As for Elliott, he again reminded us that his understanding of planning matters is not his strong suit after his famous gaffe from last April when he stated “Urban sprawl is the future,” It’s coming. It’s already here.” During last night’s debate he confused the urban planner’s concept of a “dead zone” (large corner concrete parking structure) with a now shuttered entertainment area further down on Pelissier where two young lives were tragically taken in past years. Baffling …
Kudos to Councillor’s Bortolin, Marra, Holt and Kusmierczyk who fought valiantly in their efforts to retain the parking garage retail space. Also, recognition goes out to Mark Boscariol, Rhys Trenhaile, Larry Horwitz, Debie Croucher, Bob Williams, Caitlin Malloy-Marcon, Lori Newton, Bill Kachmaryk who appeared as delegations fighting for the retail space.
One can only hope that the misguided decision by city Council from last night will not slow the momentum that we are experiencing in the downtown core. The Stephen Thompson’s and John Ansell’s of Maiden Lane fame, and Rhys Trenhaile and his Pelissier Street development, and city core investors’ Horwitz and Boscariol, and the many other entrepreneurs willing to risk their investments, deserve better from our elected leaders.