End of an era – but what an incredible burst of city-building

Today I was part of the platform party at the opening of the new Simcoe-Muskoka Regional Cancer Care Centre, and the expansion to RVH.  This is the largest and last of the stimulus-era building projects to open in our City.

I have had the great fortune of being part of the previous Council, and leading the current Council, as we have gone through a period of rapid city-building.  Consider this – in just the past eighteen months, the following public buildings have opened and begun delivering service to the public in Barrie:

  • Surface Water Treatment Plant 
  • Mady Centre for the Performing Arts
  • Painswick Branch Library
  • Expanded Airport Terminal 
  • Renovated+Expanded Eastview Arena
  • Fire Station #1/Headquarters/Emergency Operations Centre 
  • Sadlon Centre for Health and Wellness (Georgian College)
  • Cancer Care Centre/RVH expansion

I would guess that there has actually never been a period of time in the City’s history when this many public buildings were built in such a short period of time.

Some may rightly worry about the cost of these projects and doing them all at once.  I certainly did (and still sometimes do).  However, consider this – all but the Surface Water Treatment Plant (SWTP) and the Library were completed with at least 65% of the funding coming from senior levels of government.  Fundraising paid for more than 20% of the costs for the Library and Mady Centre, and a significant portion of the College and RVH projects.   Some debt was incurred by the city for it’s projects – most notably for the SWTP – and those decisions were not taken lightly.  But the debt is manageable, and the financial benefits of receiving 2/3 funding from senior government means that the taxpayers of Barrie have benefitted hugely by having these buildings delivered at one-third (or less) of the cost than if the city had undertaken them on our own. 

For three years, during the depths of the recession, these projects provided employment in the local construction industry, helping to keep it going during a time of little or no private sector investment.  For decades to come, they will provide better or broader services to our residents.

But this period has come to an end.  With today’s opening at the RVH, we have finished the period of building new buildings, and are into the austerity period where our focus needs to be containing costs and ensuring a stable financial future for all levels of government.  This does not mean we won’t build another building, but it does mean they will be fewer and much further between.

I was at the Painswick Library last night, and people kept coming up to me to say thanks for building a building for their family, and for their community.  I had one woman tell me she’s there with her kids almost every day, that it’s actually changed their life.  Ultimately that’s what city-building is all about, whether that’s on a grand scale like the Cancer Care Centre – which is an enormous step forward for health care – or on a local scale, like the upgraded Eastview Arena.  It’s about a better life for our residents.  I urge you, if you haven’t stuck your head in the door at one or all of these buildings – go give them a look, and see what’s going on in each of them.   After all – they all belong to you.

Barrie’s real estate market red hot

Home sales in Barrie were up 29% in April of 2012 over April of 2011.  Some interesting details on what is driving demand in this article:

http://www.simcoe.com/community/barrie/article/1355542

Anne Street South

Anyone noticed how Anne Street South has turned around in recent years? 

Anne Street South was Main Street of Barrie’s early post-war industrial area.  Over the years, as newer industrial areas to the south started to attract more modern industries, and as Ontario manufacturing was hammered through the 1980s and 1990s, many of the larger plants actually on Anne Street started to close.  Some of the anchor businesses are still there, such as Barrie Welding, a leading-edge shop producing everything from heavy equipment for mining to robots for auto plants.  But several of the other industries closed, such as Risdon.

The condition of the industrial sector in the area was matched by the condition of the road.  By the middle part of last decade, Anne Street was often on the CAA’s list of the top 10 worst roads in Ontario.  A “Barrie Special” – varying from four lanes, to sort of three and a half lanes, Anne was pockmarked and past it’s shelf life.

After lengthy negotiations to buy the needed property strips on each side of Anne to make it a consistent width, it was finally rebuilt and reopened as a proper 4 /5 lane arterial road in 2010.  It’s interesting to see what’s happened since.  A number of new businesses have moved onto Anne – it is continuing to shift to being a commercial street rather than a purely industrial area. 

The types of businesses that have moved into the area mirror changes in Barrie’s economy.  An office building near Tiffin.   A new big box outdoor living store.  An expanded garage.  The new Kawartha Dairy ice cream shop and store.  Just off of Anne Street, there are three recycling businesses, including Habitat for Humanity’s expanded ReStore.  But most encouragingly – Barrie Welding is expanding.  Their new building is under construction right now.  It is extremely encouraging to see industrial uses expanding in Barrie, particularly in older areas such as this one.