The relationship between the City of Cornwall and its downtown hasn’t been this frosty since the heady days of George Assaly. The late owner of Jay-Gee Shoes on Pitt Street south was known for his fiery demeanour when it came to the status of his beloved downtown – and the sup- port he thought the city should be proffering to the engine of the local economy.
Assaly called a spade a spade – city be damned.
We’ve learned recently that the City of Cornwall is being sued by Rothmar Holdings, a firm that owns more than two dozen properties downtown and is fuming over a dispute involving the how each side is interpreting the Ontario Building Code.
Building permits at four downtown properties are at the heart of the dispute.
Typically these kinds of disagreements are dealt with in the background by an agency called the Building Code Commission. But instead of dealing with this quietly, Rothmar has gone nuclear with court filings, public finger-pointing and has even hired PR firm Edelman Global Advisory Services to manage things.
Rothmar says the city has been dragging its feet on this file for about a year – and chose the waning days of a municipal election campaign to light the spark.
And now a political fire is smouldering downtown.
Business owners are angry. Why is this good?
Because some critical mass is forming that could lead to a larger discussion concerning the building and bylaw department at the City of Cornwall. This department has had its fair share of criticism, from the enforcement of property standards to the perception of incompetence when it comes to the aforementioned building permits.
Politicians and political wannabes have jumped into this debate with both feet in recent days, thanks to the proximity to the election on Oct. 24. We may be approaching a time to put these issues to bed once and for all.
Is everyone downtown in support of this move by Rothmar? There was a bit of consternation, just a bit, when the ‘Permit Me – Cornwall’ stickers started showing up in windows downtown.
Not every business downtown is a small business, or a mom and pop operation. Some are agencies that must remain apolitical – and it’s unlikely they’re keen on taking a position on this issue, one way or the other.
Rothmar owns a lot downtown, but it doesn’t own a monopoly on its point of view.
The problem, as we see it, is how this dispute will likely lead to a souring of relations between the city and its downtown merchants. Our downtown is good, sometimes great.
To be consistently great the downtown needs the support of the city. An example – there has been criticism of the interlocking bricks that dominate some of the downtown sidewalks. They heave and crumble every winter and many have called for their replacement with some nice, clean concrete sidewalks.
Such a project will cost megabucks, and probably isn’t the priority at city hall that most downtown merchants demand. The best way to convince the city to prioritize this project is unlikely to come via some of the rhetoric we’re hearing these days.
There may be opportunities on the horizon to better our downtown. There is just as likely to be more arguing and negativity – which doesn’t help anyone.
Tread carefully, all.