THE STOCKWELL REPORT
On August 26th of this year The Stockwell Report commented on two public meetings that covered the launch of The Master Plan for Downtown Wasaga Beach, a $350,000 study for the creation of a downtown core made up of retail, residential, and leisure facilities.
The project was jointly financed by the Province, Regional Tourism Seven, Simcoe County, Stonebridge Town Centre, developer Hamount Investments, and the Municipality, with the Town`s share being $35,000.
During those meetings, attendees were asked to participate by designating their choice of the core of the proposed downtown on a map which showed Beach One and the area of Main Street south of the Main Street bridge.
If my memory serves me correctly, the overwhelming public choice was the area south of the Main Street bridge.
The planning consultants, Forrec Limited, stated that they would take that information away and work on a second set of public meetings to review recommended options regarding a development plan.
Earlier this week that meeting took place with approximately 200 residents in attendance.
Opening remarks at that meeting, from Wasaga Beach Mayor Brian Smith, stated that the planning exercise must be “affordable, realistic, and sustainable”. Those comments were echoed by the consultants as they presented “different options for consideration, and they would be reporting back next month.” They went on to state “We are still at the idea stage”.
As the evening went on, it became apparent that the consultants were presenting two development nodes for consideration, these being the area immediately south of the Main Street bridge (as suggested by the majority of attendees at the August public meeting) and a second development node focused on the heart of Beach One.
The consultant’s approach to the development of the two nodes were clearly different. They spoke of the Main Street South area as a “community hub”, made up of things like a new town hall, a library, and even a high school (which was met with applause by those in attendance) .
It was suggested that those public facilities could be complemented by four to six storied condos with a number of small retail outlets being created at the street level of the residential structures. The retail outlets should be focused on providing “the best little bakery/cafe, the best little butcher, and the best little dining facility”.
The idea being that that type of retail wouldn`t call for large capital outlay, yet would draw both local and tourist trade to the area.
When it came to the Beach One area, a Resort/Residential type of development was visualised, not unlike the Blue Mountain resort at Collingwood`s Ski Hills.
It was noted that it would be easier to proceed with the Beach One development in that the municipality owns most of the land fronting the beach.
The consultants then spent some time speaking of things like indoor water parks, now existing in both Canada and the U.S.A, and what type of capital expenditures it takes to create such facilities. They also discussed a number of other Resort/Residential concepts that probably would be a stretch for the Wasaga Beach market.
The meeting went longer than expected, given the interest of those in attendance, and the closing comments by the consultants, after a brief question and answer period, were that they would again host a third session on November Third to present a status report on the study.
Now, sooner or later the consultants will bring a plan to the Wasaga Beach Council for its consideration, and, once adopted, the wheels will start turning towards attracting interested developers with the financing needed to bring the final plan into being.
As stated, it is clear that the Beach One strip would be the easiest to launch, given Council`s decision to bring those commercial properties into public ownership. However, if that should happen, the danger in such a decision could lead to picking low-hanging fruit that could be both the beginning and the end of an ambitious plan.
There are two communities within a few hours drive of Wasaga Beach that should be visited by anyone interested in economic development plans that changed the face of small communities: Goderich and Belleville.
In August 2011 the town of Goderich’s downtown was devastated by a tornado. The downtown has since been rebuilt, carried out by the Downtown Master Plan, and the town is now working on the Goderich Waterfront Master Plan, that would connect its waterfront with the highly successful downtown area.
Now, the property owners were probably working with a good amount of insurance money, that came as a result of the tornado, and was used to finance the downtown development.
However, a daytrip to the area to see the downtown redevelopment first hand, would give the viewer a look at what a community can do when committed to a well thought out plan.
The second day trip would be visiting the City of Belleville to view the Quinte Sports and Wellness Centre. The facility houses three N.H.L. size ice pads, an Aquatic Centre with an eight lane, twenty-five meter pool, a large multi-use gymnasium, retail space, and a host of other community facilities.
As Councilor Ron Ego has said about many a project that crosses Councils desks, “Let`s do it right”.