“We are one of the few cities that do not have a fully developed waterfront.”
“Somebody has to have a vision for the future of Cornwall.”
Three quotes from a conversation recently with Cornwall city councillor Denis Thibault. Councillor Thibault says the time has come to start seriously thinking about owning our waterfront and developing it, despite the fact many residents feel the undeveloped ambiance is just fine. Nevertheless, Thibault says he’s moving forward.
“I’m getting a good reaction because I took my time and made sure I explained what I was talking about versus just talking in general terms. We have a part of our waterfront that is already well developed but we have 14 kilometers of waterfront in Cornwall. We have approximately 600 to 800 yards of waterfront that has been developed. The rest of it needs attention,” says Thibault.
But the crunch is we don’t own the land.
“Even the waterfront that’s developed a large part of it we don’t own. It’s owned by the federal government in one shape or another.”
Thibault goes on to say several federal ministries own bits and pieces of the waterfront. He says there’s been very little movement on the waterfront itself since the “Seaway days,” when they built the Seaway and the high bridge with the thought that there would be a channel on the Canadian side as well as the American side.
“The federal government through some of its people has already indicated that when the low bridge is built the federal government will look at divesting its properties along the river. The city would have first shot at acquiring those properties but first the city has to have a plan or a desire to acquire them and if they do, what’s the plan for long term development. That would mean we would own 100% of Guindon Park which we don’t own right now. We only own a part of it. We would also own the rest of the properties that are not already in private hands. Some of the lands in the east end are privately owned. But everything that’s in federal hands from the port to Marine 200 to the area behind Lamoureux Park and the RCAF Association, the canal and all the way up to the end of Guindon Park would then become available to the city,” said Thibault.
“I talked to the Mayor about this two and a half years ago and we took our time and developed the idea to a point where we needed to start doing some community consultation.”
He says in the past eight months quite a bit of consultation has taken place through the media and he has made several presentations to the Waterfront Committee of city council. Thibault says he also made a presentation to the bridge corporation and to a number of other groups. He said he also made presentations to city staff and to city council and after several discussions, a Waterfront Acquisition Committee was formed.
“The process now is to identify all the lands and identify who is the current owner of those lands and then look at how we would approach the process in order to acquire those lands in a timely fashion. Another thing we did was meet with Akwesasne leaders. It was agreed by both councils to work together to find opportunities for the development of waterfront initiatives,” he said.
Thibault says his vision “marries” with the Heart of the City plans. Along the canal Thibault sees opportunities for commercial and residential development.
“If you look at the area of Guindon Park for instance, we have some desolate beaches that are sitting there somewhat dirty along with some decrepit buildings. Why could we not have one nice entrance to Guindon Park that takes you down to the waterfront area where it’s developed into some quality properties, residential and recreational?”
“The only way to ensure control, and I hope the people consider this to be important, is we need to learn from some of the things that Natives look at which is to never relinquish the ownership of the properties for seven generations. You could lease the properties out with two back to back 49-year leases to a developer that will meet the needs of the city. That way, we have control and should a developer happen to go bankrupt or the building falls into disrepair, the city still owns the land rather than having the area privately owned and buildings fall into disrepair but the owners hang on because it’s a good tax deduction,” says Thibault.
I suggested to the councillor that such lofty plans aren’t going to happen overnight and he agreed to a point.
“I would expect to see things happening within the next four a half years. You need to have a council that buys into this early and is in a situation in the next term to have part of that as a portion of their agenda for the next four years.”
Thibault says when the current council came on board almost four years ago, they sat down made conscious decisions on what the bigger picture agenda would be for the term. Councillors agreed that they would be as environmentally responsible as possible and that they would control any tax hike over the term so even compounded it would not exceed 10% and Thibault believes they’ve done that. He says now with the new council that will come on board before the end of the year, waterfront development may be one of those items high on the agenda for the next term.
“Sure it’s going to cost money but when you look at it, the reason you try to do development is not only to make the area look good but to increase the community’s tax base as well. Somehow you have to figure out a way to increase your tax base so you’re not squeezing the people who can least afford it.”
Being a realist, Thibault says “I don’t expect to see this in my lifetime but somebody has to start the ball rolling.”
At that point I asked Thibault if he’s going to run again in the October election. He said he had to consult with a higher authority—his wife Elaine.
“I have asked my wife her opinion and she has given me the OK. Now it’s a matter of making the decision based on health and other issues as to whether I’m going to make a jump again. If I was a betting man right now I would say the odds are good of doing so again.”
Knowing Denis Thibault I would also say the odds are pretty good that his vision for a Cornwall waterfront development plan will move along impressively over the next “four and a half years.”
And I’m all for waterfront development but you know that already.
I’m John Divinski.