Political Analyst and Observer, Bill Longworth's, Weekly "Eye on City Hall" Columns, as published in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada's Oshawa Central Newspaper


Monday, March 8, 2010

Moving UOIT Students downtown is a giant mistake!


“Eye on City Hall”

A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion
Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
March 8, 2010


I’ve heard of LBWA---“Leadership by walking” around which has some merit…but leadership by following the crowd and hoping for the best…never!

Leadership requires vision…not simply watching things happen and then trying to weave these happenings into some kind of coherent “plan” devised after the fact.

In his annual “state of the city address” on February 18, 2010, to about 150 city business and political leaders and city hall staffers, Mayor John Gray seemed to be looking at the city through rose coloured glasses taking credit for things far beyond his control, while taking bows for the General Motors Centre, which has a $3 million annual taxpayer loss, as being a catalyst for bringing the new Provincial Courthouse downtown, which in turn precipitated the move of UOIT and Durham College faculties and residences downtown---a carefully planned domino effect, he said!

"Last year, I stood before you,” Mayor John Grey spouted, “and pledged that within five years, the downtown would look and feel dramatically different than it had before. One year later, this pledge is soundly on its way to being realized."

The Mayor’s right! One year later, the downtown is starting to look and feel a lot different. The future of the downtown looks and feels a lot bleaker than it did just one year ago!

John Gray took credit for the GM Centre which he promoted for the downtown, and which presently has perpetual annual operating losses of $1 million plus debt servicing costs approximating $2 million, as the catalyst for downtown renewal. The losses to taxpayers are so significant that there are rumors the city will try to sell the GM Centre after the next election, and swallow the huge taxpayer losses.

But the Mayor’s “take” is different---“A planned ‘domino effect’ from the GM Centre was responsible for the Provincial Consolidated Courthouse,” the Mayor said, even though we all know this courthouse has been in the wind from almost the time the mayor was in diapers.

Then, he said, both created the thrust to attract our University to relocate some of its faculties downtown---first, the Education Faculty responsible for training teachers, and then, the College’s Legal Services Faculty responsible for training law clerks and such.

The Mayor spins such a teasing yarn! He should be in the spinning business!

The prime reason for the movement of these students downtown was not the GM Centre or even the Courthouse, but the availability of space that the university could get for a song.

Why was the space available? Because the downtown is dead, and businesses cannot survive there---and Civic Administration and the Politicians have not taken a lead in the development of the downtown. They seem to manage by walking behind.

They didn't take the initiative to lead downtown development by developing and implementing a feasible vision for a vibrant downtown. They managed by putting things to chance and hoped like hell that something worthwhile would happen.

The downtown invasion of UOIT/Durham College students will prove once again to be a mistake.

It offers only a quick fix to occupy vacant downtown spaces, at the same time as destroying opportunity for a longer term development of the downtown into a vibrant magnet for attracting quality shops, restaurants, and cultural institutions---a quality place to attract the adult population and their consumer dollars from far and wide to the Oshawa downtown.

Oshawa has the least attractive downtown from Kingston to Niagara Falls, and this is not going to change with the student invasion.

And if I were a student attending the University, I would be damn mad about being banished from the main campus with all its libraries, student facilities, and campus atmosphere, all of which is an important part of university attendance, learning, and growth. There is something special for serious students about the atmosphere of wandering the campus of academia, rather than walking the streets of a downtown.

So, I’ve claimed that overstocking the downtown with students is bad for the development of our downtown and a serious error by city council. Let me explain!

With a preponderance of students, most of whom are on low fixed budgets, the only kind of business that will thrive over the longer term are fast food joints, beer and jive dives, and oftentimes, groups of students raising hell. After all, students still do want to have boisterous fun and kick up their heels from time to time. That has not changed from the time you and I went to university.

But this is the very thing that will drive the adult population away, and in turn drive the higher class, higher priced, restaurants and shops out of the downtown.

The Mayor thinks these students will work wonders with downtown businesses. Good luck!

Wonder what he’s been drinking as he looks at Oshawa with those rose coloured glasses that gives him an unrealistic and unreasonable view of our city?

The influx of students downtown will also attract non-student youth to the downtown, and we will have a repeat of the serious problems of rowdy youth when we had the huge teen nightclubs in town that used to attract troublemakers from far and wide, necessitating huge police servicing costs.

Thank goodness, we finally got rid of this problem---for a while!

The mayor insists that it’s a great idea to fill the downtown Scotiabank building, the Alger Press Building, the Regent Theatre, the Genosha Hotel, and any other space that becomes available with students …

He thinks these students will work wonders with downtown businesses.

I think it’s a catastrophe!

And I think it demonstrates a weakness in John Gray’s long term vision for this city, and a real weakness in his analytical skills in failing to see something that is plainly visible to all.

But what more can we expect from this mayor whose judgement personally approves $40,000 of taxpayer money for funding the Stephen Colbert day (the mayor’s personal birthday party), and personally approves $46,000 of taxpayer money for MBA’s for his Executive Assistant and Councillor April Cullen, and who has “gone Hollywood” with taxpayer money with his bright yellow “boy toy” gas guzzling 426 HP sports car graffitied with his signature across the fender?

I have a very different vision for the city than Mayor John Gray who, by selling the Regent Theatre to the University, deprived the downtown of a potential cultural icon, and opened the floodgates to the student invasion.

My vision will be somewhat harder now to implement although it is something we still believe in.

As your future Mayor, I have an exciting vision for your downtown.

I have ideas about redirecting the one way traffic around the downtown four corners and creating landscaped walking malls and gardens on Simcoe Street from Bond Street to Athol, and on King Street from Centre Street to Mary.

I have also envisioned commissioning an international design contest to study our downtown streetscapes, to come up with a common design theme for the building facades, and then providing tax incentives for building owners to update their building street facades.

I have envisioned a pleasant place with strolling musicians, and art shows, and festivals over the summer.

I have plans to remove all downtown parking meters which presently keep people out of the downtown, and provide free downtown parking in all city parking lots perimeter to the downtown.

As for the vacant Alger Press Building, I had thought, before the University’s 30 year lease, that the old factory would have been a great site for the kinds of boutique warehouses created at Toronto’s Harbourfront, with space rented to artists and cultural groups and cottage industries with boutique clothing lines, and antique vendors. It was part of my plan to create a downtown that would be a magnet for the consuming Oshawa public, as well as those from out of town.

It’s only if we can attract people to our downtown that vibrant, high class, and profitable businesses will be attracted there.

Port Hope, Port Perry, and Cobourg are nearby neighbours that have vibrant downtowns. Why can’t we?

We need a mayor and city council that thinks “big,” and maybe then Oshawa will become more than “The Shwa.”

The planned domino effect the mayor said he planned is not quite the one that we will see following the October 25, 2010 municipal election.

At that time, citizens are planning to topple The Mayor and Oshawa City Council one-by-one…a domino effect indeed!

In the meantime, the Mayor continues to fiddle while Rome burns!


Be sure to follow Bill’s radio broadcasts, “Eye on City Hall”,
every Monday, 6-9 pm EST, on http://www.ocentral.com/thewave/


10 comments:

  1. I must say, that as a soon-to-be-future resident of North Oshawa, your blog has been an eye-opener.

    I am not at all thrilled to hear about the sky-rocketing taxes and the seeming lack of planning and thought on the part of the mayor and city council. I hope I do not regret my decision to buy a home there! Please remind me of the positives of Oshawa! NMM

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  2. You Have know idea what your talking about!! I for one who is a third year UOIT student attending classes downtown enjoy my experience very much and will continue too. The University presence in downtown oshawa is nothing but a good thing. UOIT has provided 1.7 billion dollars in economic growth for oshawa over the last 5 years and will continue to. They have all the amenities down town as they do on the main campus. Do some reaearch next time before you rant about something you know nothing about. If you went to university you would know that you need to back up you claims with respected and cited research!

    sincerely

    an angry UOIT student.

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  3. Dear Anonymous....that identity provides great validation for your comment. All university building, which I value, provides some economic stimulous to Oshawa but taking over empty buildings dowtown deprives Oshawa City Hall from millions of $ of tax revenue that will have to be made up by residential/industrial/commercial taxpayers. I appreciate UOIT locating in Oshawa and as the 1990 Federal Conservative Candidate in Oshawa was calling for the establishment of a high tech university in Oshawa which I called the MIT of the North at the time. If I went to University???? BA (Queens), M.Ed (U of T)...attended doctoral and MBA programs for a while at U of T before dropping out to pursue political interests. You??????

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  4. If you read the report on the expansion of oshawa there, appears to have a doubling effect. Therefore , if the city of oshawa were to spent 2 million of the expansion, the amount of money brought back is 4 million. It makes sense, you hire people to work to renovate( its needs it badly) } the place and there are students who have visitors too. Therefore, it would increase the local business. As more and more restaurant and business opens up and more people buy house there for rent... it all helps oshawa.

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  5. site administratorJune 6, 2011 at 5:21 PM

    The report you refer to is unbalanced in its viewpoint. It speculates about benefits but never balances that out by identifying any negatives or other concerns. The report is obviously biased in supporting unconditionally the development of a downtown camnpus. It never even mentions the tax losses for buildings converted to university use. Any one-sided report has to be viewed as suspect by any careful analysts.

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  6. I am really interested in your points.
    Can you please explain more why we losing moneys from building. Doesnt UOIT get tax too for using these building?

    Not to mention these building were empty.
    I am assuming that you live near or close to downtown Oshawa. Has the atmosphere changed? Are there more people? It doesnt seem like a waste land anymore ?

    I actually dont know these answers, i am just asking.

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  7. All buildings owned, used, leased, etc. by educational institutions, churches, or governments are all tax exempt. Commercial buildings pay taxes even if they are unoccupied and so there is a net tax loss for the city for university used buildings. This loss will have to be made up by other city taxpayers by way of increased mill rates. Therefore, city taxpayers end up subsidizing the university....and as i suggested in one column, this taxpayer cost and other granhts given to UOIT by the city should be considered prepaid tuitions for city residents attending UOIT. It could be computed accurately based on the assessment of the student's paren'ts property assessment. Without this, city taxpayers are subsidizing out of city students to attend here.

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  8. Are you saying, ONLY Oshawa resident students can get these benefits.

    I love how you dont reply to the other questions.
    In your column you mention that you want to make the city better with design. Fine. BUT THERE NO ONE IN OSHAWA TO ENJOY it. The DOWNTOWN area is so quiet.
    At least the students ( mostly out of town ) bring in some cash.

    YOu use some money here from lack of tax, but NO ONE OWN these building. THeIR EMPTY.
    NOT to mention the money that the student have, to spent. Yes student do have budget, but they also spent to survive, like clothing, material, gas, FOOD.

    I HOPE YOU DONT WIN.


    YOU HATE STUDENT WAY TOO MUCH.

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  9. THE BUILDING ARE EMPTY DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT THIS MEANS. NO ONE IN THEM. Thats mean no one to tax.


    THERE A REASON WHY THEY GAVE IT TO UOIT> NO ONE THERE TO PAY TAX ON THEM.

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  10. Site AdministratorJune 7, 2011 at 11:43 AM

    All buildings, occupied or not, continue to pay taxes by their owners unless they become occupied by government, church, or educational institution users.

    Since the release of the UOIT plans for the downtown, I have changed my position on the downtown UOIT campus and now feel that it is the only hope for downtown renewal and revitalization as city hall has reneged on all leadership and responsibility for downtown renewal over the last 50 years. See http://eyeoncityhall.blogspot.com/2011/05/hey-city-hallget-out-of-way-and-let.html

    ReplyDelete