St. Catharines Can  and Should Draft a Plan for Port Dalhousie that is More Respectful to this Historic Jewel

A Commentary by St. Catharines resident and community activist Ron Brydges

Posted December 29th, 2017 on Niagara At Large

Niagara, Ontario – Having attended the public meeting St. Catharines’ city council held this past December 12th on the so-called Port Fortress Project (a plan to build a 17-storey-high condo tower in the heritage district of Port Dalhousie), it seemed I was hearing a rehash of the pros and cons of the Port Tower proposal (an earlier plan for a high-rise condo at the same location) from ten years ago.

Port Dalhousie, now at left and with the proposed high-rise tower complex to the right

It did seem that the majority of people (more than 200 were in attendance) at December 12th meeting opposed this latest development proposal just as they opposed the development ten years ago.

It appears that an awful lot of time and money has been expended by private developers, the City of St. Catharines and community groups with opposing views of what is the most desirable development for this unique historical area of the city. As has been seen, there are accountability and reliability issues that come with a private development of this type.

The St. Catharines community of Port Dalhousie is a summer place and any proposal from the private sector is going to have to generate a sizeable profit margin within a four month summer span to satisfy its primary owners, executives and shareholders.

For all its greatness, the Port Dalhousie area does not have a lot of attraction in the winter months. This need for quick profit could all but rule out the private sector delivering a development proposal that will fully meet the city’s second tier plan and fully realize Port’s potential as a social hub for the city and the province.

Public meeting, hosted this past December 12th, 2017by St. Catharines council, on latest Port Dalhousie condo tower plan. Photo by Emily Beth

Port is a special place for many of us. Generations of young and old from all walks-of-life have made summer visits to the Port for picnics, sunbathing and swimming, sports competitions, fishing off the pier, or sitting out on hotel patios for beer and music and most important mingling. And there is our nickel priced carousel.

Earlier generations crossed Lake Ontario by ferry from Toronto or travelled from Lake Erie on trams looking for and having a good time in the Port. Hundreds of Black people celebrated Emancipation Day in the Port and my native wife celebrated with them. My son-in-law played music at the Lions Club in Port Dalhousie and I went there to listen to the blues.
I think St. Catharines can put together a good public development proposal for the rejuvenation of the Old Port.

Nobody knows the development and traffic issues surrounding the Old Port better than our City and Regional Planning departments. They could draw on the knowledge of urban planners from Brock University and the Niagara Architect Society and together create a proposal for upgrading and developing this unique area.

Any proposal would have input from and participation of the Port Dalhousie residents who best understand the local needs. The Black community might step forward with plans for a small museum and shrine dedicated to the underground railway and how it brought people out of slavery. Port saw the coming together for historical Emancipation Day celebrations, which could perhaps be renewed with a summer festival of blues and other musical genres restoring life to the Port.

The City together with Toronto and the Province should consider a summertime public ferry, replete with entertainment and bands, travelling from Toronto Island to the Port bringing tourists and revelers for a summer outing in the Port. The ferry could also full-fill some basic enlarged summer transportation needs. Tourist accommodations would be planned but not all this need be in the immediate down town Port.

With a publicly embraced Port Rejuvenation Development plan in hand the City could then invite building contractors to submit costs and timelines. Underscoring this would require a wholesome accounting of costs and returns for this public investment. Some private and corporate donators might step forward to help make it happen.

Port Dalhousie is a Jewel in our City. Perhaps it just needs re-shining.

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 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

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