Tear down city hall – and the Arts Centre while you’re at it? Who said Burlington was called Borington?

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  March 4, 2013  This stuff is as dry as toast and watching paint dry is more exciting BUT, it is the stuff that is going to result in the foundation your city gets built on.

In Burlington, the Capital Budget is a ten-year rolling document.  They plan ten years out and advance the decisions  each year.  This year there are so many things in a state of flux that the city manager advised Council he will want to re-state the Capital Budget very soon.  The intention is to align the Capital Budget with the Strategic Plan.  Burlington now has a thoroughly thought out Strategic Plan that came out of more than five days of meetings spread out over a three-month time frame.  It was what council and staffs were able to do at the time – the city might be ready for a review of that plan – perhaps in the next term of council.

So- what is it that’s on the table from a Capital spending point of view for the city in 2013?

Well the Tyandaga Golf course is not seen as a revenue generator for the city and the land could, some think, be put to better use.  The city manager isn’t prepared to stake his reputation on these numbers but he thinks the club needs 23,000 new people every year to replace those that don’t return.  He adds to that,  the view of many golfers – that the club just doesn’t cut it as a fine place to play the game.

Ward 1 Councillor Rick Craven argues that the place could be managed better and they could think in terms of recreational uses during the winter months – like allowing cross-country skiing and maybe even an outdoor skating rink.  So – what does one do with that land?  Just asking was what we thought we heard the city manager saying.

Will we see additions made to city hall or will the site be sold to a developer – or perhaps the building could be torn down and turned into a parking lot?

City Hall is getting a very close look.  The city currently rents space in the Simms building directly across the street from city hall and that lease is up in 2016.  Legal and Finance are in the Simms building and it is not uncommon to see staff walking across Elgin Street with their arms full of documents.  Some are advocating for putting additional space on top of what already exists at city hall, while others think selling the building and putting up a brand new city hall is the better direction to go in.

When the suggestion about doing something with the city hall was put out, Ward 1 Councillor Rick Craven immediately suggested that Aldershot would be an ideal place for a stunning building.  Has he put a feeler out to the Paletta’s?

The sense was that if a new city hall were to be built it should be in the downtown core but no one identified what the boundaries of that core would be.  There is the space in the parking lot four between John and Elizabeth Streets that the city has been hankering to do something with for some time.

Here’s a WOW for you. Tear down the parking lot, put up a condo – then tear down city hall and build the parking lot on Brant at Elgin. Put commercial space at the ground level. Where would city hall go? Over on parking lot # 4 om John Street. – and while you’re at it put the Burlington Arts Centre in the same building as well. The capital budget meeting at which ideas like this got tossed around was quite the meeting. Is Burlington ready for this kind of growth?

Now try this idea on for size.  One of the city’s general managers asked: Why do I park my car in a building that is close to overlooking the lake.  The parking lot on Locust Street immediately south of the Performing Arts Centre is on pretty prime property.  What if that parking lot structure were torn down (yes it is fairly new) and the land sold to a developer for another condo much like the others spread out along Lakeshore Road?  Great views of the pier and Spencer Smith Park from that location.

Then tear down the city hall building and put the parking lot in that location.  What would the net cost be?   Councillor Dennison pointed out that what the city has spent in rent could have paid for an addition to city hall. The city needs more space for its staff who are currently in two buildings on opposite sides of  Elgin Street.

Whatever is built on that lot would be a multi storey building – think maybe 10 to 12 stories and could house the Burlington Art Centre collection on two – maybe three floors.  The ground floor would have all kinds of open space with the different guilds working away at their crafts that the public could look in on.  The world-class collection of Canadian ceramics could be on display and visible to the public.  They are currently in cardboard cartons in a storage vault.

The land the Burlington Art Centre is located on – Lakeshore Road across from Spencer’s on the Lake would be sold and have condo sites on it.  That BAC lot is very, very deep – something exceptional could be built on that property.

The Burlington Art Centre sits on some prime lakefront property.  The land is said to be worth $6 million and the Centre needs more space for its ceramics collection.  Maybe there is a better place for the BAC?  Perhaps in a new city hall built on parking lot #4 on John Street?

The BAC needs more than $4 million in upgrades to get their  structure and  HVAC up to scratch.  Some thought there was merit in selling the current BAC property, said to be worth $6 million for the land alone, and moving the Art Centre to a building that will go up on that parking lot everyone has eyes on but no one wants to invest in.

There were some pretty heavy ideas floating around. It got better.  The city manager has noticed that the Hydro property on Brant near Upper Middle Road is a large piece of land that, to use the language of planners, is under-utilized. It is much bigger than Hydro will ever use – there are ideas floating about as to how that property might be put to better use.

The city is about to take a closer look at what it wants to do with the Beachway part of the city.  The first steps in that process are finding an entrepreneur who wants to put something commercial in the old Pump House.  One young lady delegated to a council committee meeting and said she wanted to talk to the city about using the space to rent bicycles and paddle boats to people during the summer season.  If she adds a patio where Councillor Dennison could enjoy a glass of wine she’s got his vote.

The sign is the brightest thing about the shopping plaza.

The Skyway Arena in the east end has just a single ice pad which isn’t seen as very efficient. When this came up during the capital budget discussions the city manager asked how much tolerance the city had for risk and would Council give any thought to considering the idea of trying to make something out of a possible combination of the arena property, the library that is currently using rented space on Fairview and attempting to work out something with the owner of the Lakeshore Plaza that is in dismal shape?

No sooner were the words out of the mouth of the city manager and Councillor Sharman piped in with: “Consider it done and that resulted in a staff direction on which council can expect there to be a lot of push back from the residents of the community.

The Lakeshore Plaza is a bit of a dump with almost as many “For Rent” signs as there are actual occupants.  The Swiss Chalet is closed.  The theatre and bowling alley haven’t been used for years and the place has that sad, run down look about it.

A too small to be economically viable – the Skyway Arena is getting a close look from the ‘bean counters’ at city hall.  The city manager thinks there are some development opportunities.  The local community wants to be at the table if there are any deals made.  Could get interesting.

The Skyway Arena sits at the back of the plaza property – which is what got the city manager to thinking – what if the city made its property available to a developer and asked anyone interested to come up with some ideas.

Combining the Arena space and the Lakeshore Plaza properties would create a very enticing development opportunity.  The Skyway rink is currently a single pad which the city finds very expensive to maintain.  Two pads are much more economical.

Were a developer to come up with some housing ideas that would accommodate families – the city could create a community out there that would anchor the east end of the city, create a new community that would have access to the arena, that could be enlarged – add to that the immediate access to Burloak Park – and there would appear to be a win-win situation for everyone.

Save the Skyway arena didn’t lose any time getting the word out and making sure city hall knew who they were.  Is their Ward Council member aware of the group?

During the discussion Councillor Taylor, whose turf is in the north-west part of the city, piped in and suggested to his fellow council members that the community needed to be included in all this grand plan thinking.  That point seemed to have gotten lost.

It didn’t take long for the residents of the community to stand up on their hind legs and begin to bark.  Before you could say “Bob’s your uncle”, a group had a web site up with a headline saying  “Because Burlington City Hall doesn’t listen to its residents” .

So, while the capital budget itself is a pretty dry document consisting of how much gets spend on roads and then which roads, and then how many buses does the city buy and what size of bus – some of these decisions are for something that is going to happen eight years out.  Difficult to get people excited about what is going to get done that far out into the future.

What all this is leading to is a much more entrepreneurial look at the way the city develops its capital spending.  Those longer term spending decisions determine the shape of the community we get to live in.

Way back in 1985 city council approved a development on Lakeshore Road that is only now at the early stage of actual construction.  That decision approved a structure that will reach 22 storey’s into the sky line – something few people in this city fully appreciate.  Will it loom over everything or will it add to the skyline.  When the debates were taking place back in 1985 it was seen as a “landmark” building – will the community see it that way when it opens?

In her last delegation to city council the late Jane Irwin reminded them that many called the place BORINGTON.  That just might be about to change.

 

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1 comment to Tear down city hall – and the Arts Centre while you’re at it? Who said Burlington was called Borington?

  • Chris Ariens

    Interesting idea, but this little game of musical chairs involves a lot of “tearing down” of good and viable assets, and accepting more condos along the lakefront. So what’s in it for us?

    In ancient times (before the car became king), those who governed cities had little ability to tax, but they had to be accountable and had to make do with their buildings for a long time. Hence they built in places that were well-thought out and expected to last for generations. If they needed more room, they were able to expand, add storeys, or build additions. The architecture was grand and meticulously detailed, just look at some of the buildings that remain from the Great Depression era. Yet we can’t even replicate that in the most prosperous time ever in our history?

    By making this type of a shuffle, the debt load that the City takes on will far outlast the structures that get built. Is that what they mean when they talk about sustainability?

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