Public outcry has caused town council to press pause on a new archway, which is planned for Collingwood’s downtown.
During their March 21 council meeting, councillors discussed the installation of an archway at First and Hurontario Streets, which will alert those visiting Collingwood to the exact location of the downtown and harbourfront heritage districts.
Councillors noted a significant public response to the archway project since it was reported on at the corporate and community services standing committee meeting on March 7.
“I do believe that this public response has been exceptional. I think, maybe, we forgot to consult the public. I see little harm or expense to use Engage Collingwood to gauge the sentiment in the community,” said Coun. Deb Doherty during Monday’s meeting.
“Now is the time to take a second look. Not after it’s up,” she added.
Coun. Chris Carrier also noted he felt the public consultation was lacking, and said he agreed with Doherty that a minor pause is needed.
“I didn’t see consultation with the public. Maybe I didn’t look closely enough,” said Carrier. “My personal view is the downtown looks pretty darn nice the way it is. I’m not a fan of the arch, but I only saw it a couple of weeks ago.”
According to a previously procured wayfinding study and plan, Collingwood’s downtown is not easy for newcomers to find. The study suggested adding a downtown gateway at the north and south ends of Hurontario Street to alert travellers to the location.
According to the 2022 draft BIA budget, $140,000 would be transferred from the BIA reserves to pay for the arch at First and Hurontario Streets, however the budget notes that the BIA has also applied for grants to cover the cost. The BIA budget is funded by a levy placed on the property taxes of each business owner within the designated boundaries.
During Monday’s meeting, Deputy Mayor Keith Hull, who also sits on the BIA board, spoke to the financial aspects of the installation which, in addition to the cost of the sign, also include the costs to relocate infrastructure.
He said the BIA has applied for two federal grants for the installation to the tune of roughly $700,000, and are waiting on the outcomes of those applications to determine whether any BIA dollars will be needed for the project at all.
“Those grants would be for a blanket of opportunities as they relate to the downtown,” said Hull.
He noted that the grant applications weren’t contingent on council support or approval.
“We are being asked to support, as opposed to approve,” said Hull.
The archway will be erected at the corner of First and Hurontario Streets facing north and south to welcome visitors. Plaques will be affixed to the bases on either side; one explaining background on the downtown BIA and businesses, and the other explaining historic downtown elements.
The north-facing side of the sign will read “Historic Downtown Collingwood,” while the south-facing side will read “Historic Harbourfront Collingwood.”
The request for proposals has already been completed and awarded. Engineering drawings are expected back in March or April, and current construction timeline estimates indicate the archway will be in place by early or mid-summer.
On Monday night, Hull raised concerns that costs had already been undertaken in regards to the project, and that council had already, in essence, approved the project as it had been included in the BIA’s budget presentation to council every year since 2019.
Coun. Deb Doherty said she remembered the archway being discussed during the last term of council when she sat on the BIA board.
“That said, it’s not often we get very strong negative feedback from the community about any particular initiative,” said Doherty, proposing that public consultation on the current design could take place via the Engage Collingwood website.
“I’d like to see if the comments we’ve received via social media are broad-based, or only among a vocal few,” she said. “It is all of our downtown.”
Hull sought to differentiate between the issue of the chosen design, and the other issues being raised.
“Going to the public on such an issue... can oftentimes be dangerous,” said Hull. “A body is put in place to do the work and move things forward, and we’re elected to make decisions.”
“When I looked at some of the commentary online, it was quite clear that it was misguided. (Many) that commented maybe didn’t read or understand who was paying for this, or the process of consultation,” he said.
The design was proposed by a committee, which included members from the Collingwood Museum, BIA business and committee members and the heritage committee. Collingwood Fire was also consulted.
“They have all signed off on this,” said Hull.
Coun. Bob Madigan said he had also read some of the social media comments regarding the archway.
“The work has been done. The comments I’ve read have said, ‘I don’t like it.’ What do they want to see? They say, ‘I don’t know.’ I personally don’t like it, but I’m not elected to give my personal opinion, so I will be supporting this,” he said.
Coun. Mariane McLeod raised the issue of public art being subjective.
“I suspect we’re going to see some people taking some selfies underneath this arch,” she said.
Coun. Yvonne Hamlin put forward an amendment asking for a staff report on whether the proper process had been followed regarding public consultation, and whether the town should be doing a visioning exercise in regards to an overall plan for the downtown.
“I know this is not what our BIA would want to hear, so I’m hoping for a quick staff turnaround on this,” said Hamlin. “This is the first time this has come to this council and we’ve seen what is actually being proposed. Our approval is required because it’s on town property. The buck stops here.”
At the end of discussion, council voted unanimously in favour of referring the item to staff for a report on a public consultation process, cost and timeline impacts. The report is planned to come back to council at a strategic initiatives standing committee meeting in April.