Downtown revitalization and selling off parking lots

My hope for Barrie is to be a complete community, not a bedroom community – what a clever person on Twitter called “a living room rather than a bedroom”.

To do that we need more jobs in Barrie, we need more services in Barrie (eg. trades schools, university), and we need prosperous and safe neighbourhoods.

We don’t often think of downtown Barrie as a neighbourhood, but we should.  Residential development is key to downtown becoming safer and more prosperous; it means there are more customers for downtown shops and restaurants, and more eyes on the street at night, more residents with a commitment to seeing the area well-maintained and protected.  That’s part of the reason the City is interested in seeing some of it’s downtown parking lots redeveloped, which is the subject of a staff report on tomorrow night’s Council agenda.

Two years ago in our downtown, there were some 25 vacant storefronts on Dunlop Street downtown.  Today there are only 7.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that during the same period, we’ve seen both new public facilities now bringing people downtown (Mady Centre) and new apartments going up (33/37 Ellen Street, Maple Tower, Collier Centre).

Building an office building or a condo on a parking lot doesn’t necessarily mean losing parking spaces.  The Collier Centre, currently being built on the former IGA and City parking lot across from City hall, will have public underground parking replacing the spaces lost on the surface.  But as the staff report makes clear, downtown parking lots are only 53% used at the peak time ie. the busiest period.  Most of the time it’s less than that.  So while we’ll definitely want to retain parking spaces in strategic parts of the downtown, we’re clearly not short on parking overall.  And the staff report proposes to sell off only about 10% of the overall supply.

If these properties can be redeveloped, they can bring thousands of residents or new office workers into our core.  That would make a big difference on a whole number of fronts – safety, economic activity, social cohesion (as above), and fiscally.  These parking lots today basically just cover their costs; redevelopment generates tax revenues and development charges that can help pay for other improvements downtown and around Barrie.

All of this said – one of these lots contains a very, very important heritage building, the Mulcaster Armouries.  Council spent about $250,000 restoring this building in 2009 to allow it to be used as a museum (currently Grey and Simcoe Foresters).  Anything that happens with that site must maintain that building.  We need to be open to new ideas as we revitalize our downtown – but never lose our history, either.

About jefflehman
Jeff Lehman is the 46th Mayor of the City of Barrie. The Ward 2 Councillor for the City of Barrie from 2006 to 2010, he was the Chairman of the Finance Committee of Council, chaired the City’s Growth Management Working Group, and created the Historic Neighbourhoods project, a new initiative to protect and revitalize Barrie’s oldest neighbourhoods. Jeff has lived in Barrie for most of his life, having grown up in Allandale and attended Barrie Central Collegiate. Jeff holds a B.A. from Queen’s University, and a Master’s Degree with first class honours from the UK’s prestigious London School of Economics. He was hired to teach at the LSE following his graduation, and lived and worked in London for two years as an academic. Since that time, as an economist, he has worked with cities across Canada to manage redevelopment and invest in their urban infrastructure. In 2005, he established the Growing By Degrees Task Force to assist in expanding university education opportunities in Barrie, and has volunteered his time with many organizations in the City. Jeff lives near Downtown Barrie with his wife, Jennifer, a part-time professor of political science, and their young daughter Cassie, who is already smarter than her father.


7 Responses to “Downtown revitalization and selling off parking lots”
  1. Stephen Deneault says:

    It is quite obvious between construction cranes in the downtown, new high-rise proposals along Bradford Street, lower vacancies along Dunlop, and positive publicity in national newspapers, that downtown revitalization is becoming an increasing reality for Barrie. Communities all over Ontario yearning for this sort of energy should be envious. I hope council recognizes that while the ball is rolling in Barrie it is now that we need to make the right decisions as a city. My hope is that with more and more proposals coming forward, council really looks at the long-term net benefits of investment in the core and weigh that against the short-term NIMBYism that many of our residents still carry.

    Additionally, residential development proposals are fantastic for the downtown, but are we making sure that new employment locates downtown as well? Collier Centre is a great start to that mixed-use environment that is necessary for “complete communities”, as is a new university. As the city continues to search for big employers, they should encourage it to happen in the downtown in order to encompass all aspects of a true “live, work, and play” neighbourhood.

  2. Brian says:

    Interesting article in this weekend’s Globe about Mayor Jeff’s vision for downtown redevelopment. The rest of Canada is watching… . As the article says, “if Barrie can do it, any city can.”

    • Brianne says:

      My husband and I often comment on the extensive parking in down town. Our towns are built for cars in North America. I think we really need to look at cities in Europe (or even Collingwood) and see how they have built their towns to be more “feet friendly.” Getting rid of parking lots, and allowing more biking and walking adds charm and esthetic to a downtown.

  3. Robert Viera says:

    I would be more inclined to shop downtown if I didn’t have to navigate parked cars and avoid moving auto traffic when going from one store to another.

    Could you imagine how dangerous it would be if cars we allowed to drive inside the malls on Bayfield St and people parked their cars right in front of the stores? Yet this is how we’re expected to shop downtown.

    Cars should be parked in driveways and parking lots. Roads should be for moving vehicles.

    I think Downtown would be better off if we kept the parking lots and got rid of the on-street parking spaces.

  4. Concerned resident says:

    The reason there are plenty of parking that is not being utilized is because of the cost of said parking. You are litteraly driving buisnesses away with paid parking. Simply creating a war against vehicles is not the answer and this has been the case for years. London has banned vehicles from their core and the results have been negative. They still have conjestion problems and their public transit is appalling. I would rate the TTC better than the London public transit system and that goes for some of the Europian cities as well. So what is the answer here? Easy, forgo the revenu of paid parking and make parking FREE. What you will get is more customers for your down town area. More customers means more profit which I’m turn means more money for the city of Barrie

  5. Alberto says:

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  1. […] with Mady’s Collier Centre project across from City Hall.  I blogged about that previously, click here if you want to read more. This could generate considerable revenue, but it’s hard to count on […]

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