“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!
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