After an overarching negative response to a proposed archway in downtown Collingwood, the local business association is proposing public art instead.
A report from Downtown Collingwood Business Improvement Area (BIA) general manager Susan Nicholson headed to council on Aug. 8 proposes a gateway feature, that is not an archway, to be designed and chosen through the use of the town’s existing public art policy.
This new approach, states Nicholson’s report, is meant to provide an attraction that encourages customers downtown without losing the federal grant of $215,000 earmarked for the archway project.
The proposed archway was presented to council in early March 2022. The design showed two tall poles with a black metal archway between spanning Hurontario Street at the intersection with First Street/Huron Street. On the arch were white letters reading "Historic Downtown Collingwood" on one side and "Historic Harbourfront Collingwood," on the other. The idea, according to the BIA, was to help people find the downtown and encourage them to turn onto Hurontario Street.
The proposal was immediately and vehemently rejected by public opinion. Letters to CollingwoodToday.ca decried it as an eyesore and the BIA received dozens of emails and submissions opposing the design and concept of an archway in the downtown.
A public survey put out by the town in April received nearly twice as many responses as the 2022 town budget survey with 727 responses to the archway survey and 529 of them (72.8 per cent) against an archway altogether.
Town council was also bombarded with opposition from residents culminating to a meeting on May 30 when Mayor Keith Hull (then acting mayor) said he was surprised by the ferocity of the response to the archway.
At the May 30 meeting, council told the BIA and town staff to go back to the drawing board to find a different way to spend the $215,000 federal grant.
Nicholson’s proposal to use the town’s Public Art Policy to commission a gateway feature that is not an arch is in response to council’s May order.
Based on a plan approved by the BIA board, the process for the public art gateway feature, if it is approved by council, would begin with planning by an ad-hoc committee to come up with a budget and theme with an invitation to the community to participate on the committee.
Later there would be a call to artists, a selection process with interviews, and, ultimately, the installation of the piece.
There would be a public art working group selected for the project including town staff, BIA, community members, and representatives from the Collingwood Museum, the historical society, and the Blue Mountain Foundation for the Arts.
The BIA’s goal is to move quickly through the process to have a final design and artist contracted by the end of January 2023. The federal grant must be spent on a project that is substantially complete by March 31, 2023.
If council approves this approach to commissioning a gateway feature that will double as public art, the BIA will be asking the town to cover a loss of $35,350 spent to design and commission the former arch design.