The next step towards transforming downtown Chatham has officially begun.
The owners of Chatham’s downtown shopping centre asked the municipality to keep an open mind and dream big for the future of Chatham-Kent.
A group of local investors and the owners of the Downtown Chatham Centre have drafted a proposal for council’s consideration to redevelop the mall into a community hub and entertainment complex. This would consolidate several municipally-owned buildings into one location.
A preliminary design concept, paid for by the investors, has been created by an architectural firm as part of the proposal, which depicts a major overhaul of the property.
Councillors had a chance to view a video about the group’s vision.
In a unanimous vote during last week’s municipal council meeting, local councillors voted in favour of allocating $50,000 from the strategic reserve towards the initial steps of getting the downtown revitalization project off the ground.
The first phase would see the creation of a community hub to house the civic centre, library, cultural centre and museum under one roof in the former Sears building.
The second phase involves demolishing a large section of the mall to construct a 4,000 a new municipally-owned 4,000-seat hockey arena and a local sports hall of fame in the middle surrounded by retail outlets.
Following the presentation, council passed a motion asking that public consultation take place. The results will be presented during the August 8 meeting.
South Kent Councillor Anthony Ceccacci admitted he had “goosebumps” seeing what the proposal involved and its potential for Chatham-Kent.
“You can already hear the buzz in our community,” he said. “I’m sure with the pedigree involved in this potential project that the ceiling is just unimaginable.”
The Ward 2 Councillor said council will still do their due diligence to ensure they are looking at current assets.
“We will be assessing those current assets for the strategic reserve, and we will be basically manufacturing all the community consultation and bringing it back,” said Ceccacci. “This is kind of like the trailer to the potential movie.”
General Manager of Community Development Bruce McAllister echoed Ceccacci’s remarks, noting the municipality will continue to be diligent.
“We want to continue with some additional due diligence,” said McAllister. “We’re looking to get certified appraisals done in our assets and fully look at the business case going forward for this proposal.”
Chatham-Kent Mayor Darrin Canniff also voiced his support for the project. He added Chatham-Kent is in competition with every municipality across the province.
“This has made news right across Ontario,” said Canniff. “As we move forward, we’re going to have two options – do nothing or build this facility.”
Canniff said the Downtown Chatham Centre revitalization wouldn’t just benefit residents in Chatham but pointed out it sets a precedent for the entire municipality.
“I see this as an opportunity not only for downtown Chatham, but as we look at Wallaceburg, Dresden, we look in other communities, how can we consolidate some buildings but improve service, not take away services but improve them.”
Councillor Michael Bondy also showed his enthusiasm for the project and said he had nothing but positive sentiments about the group leading downtown’s potential future revitalization.
“I think this is a win for the municipality,” he said. “The experience that runs through this group should make everybody confident and give people comfort that this is going to happen.”
Regarding costs of the project, McAllister said the intent is to undertake further due diligence in the next several weeks and get back to council with what they can at that particular stage.
The public will now have a chance to have their say about the proposal through online consultation over the next few weeks. The results of the community consultation will come back to council in August.
McAllister said the Let’s Talk Chatham-Kent page would be available for public feedback, and the video presentation will be open until July 15.
“Then we’ll come back to council with those results,” he said.
McAllister added it was too soon to say when a council vote could take place concerning the project, noting it is still in the preliminary stages.
The public consultation page can be found at www.letstalkchatham-kent.ca/imagine-chatham-kent. The video presentation of the Imagine Chatham-Kent preliminary design concept is also shared on this page, while residents are invited to provide comments. Frequently asked questions can be found on the right side of the webpage. This section will be updated with further information to address any additional questions posed during the process.
Residents without internet access can request a hard copy comment form available at any municipal centre or Chatham-Kent library branch.
Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News