The original proposed design for an archway in Collingwood’s downtown has been put on the shelf for now, while town staff and the Collingwood Downtown Business Improvement Area (BIA) go back to the drawing board to determine the best way to spend the federal funding allotted to the project.
In a report considered by councillors during their Monday (May 30) meeting, results from the public engagement survey on the proposed downtown archway were compiled, and showed that 72.8 per cent of respondents were not in favour of any archway or gateway feature in Collingwood’s downtown.
During discussion, Acting Mayor Keith Hull – who had been a vocal supporter of the project – spoke with emotion about the toll the onslaught of public commentary on the matter had taken on him personally.
“To those I offended in terms of the stance I took, I apologize,” said Hull. “For the few individuals that took direct aim – and these are people I know – who questioned my loyalty to this community, whether or not I’m from here is irrelevant.
“I’ve never (before) been questioned on my values and my love for this community. Some of the correspondence I received was unsettling,” he said.
The town received 727 responses to the survey which sought to gather feedback to inform future steps on the project, 72.8 per cent of which (or 529) said they didn’t want an archway or gateway feature. About 19 per cent of respondents (138) said they thought the archway was great, while 8.3 per cent (or 60) said they liked the idea of a gateway feature, but didn’t like the presented design.
Of the four colour options presented, the top ranked option was black, followed by navy, grey and burgundy. However, it is noted that 476 respondents skipped the question altogether as it wasn’t mandatory.
Residents were also able to submit alternate ideas for a gateway feature. About 90 written comments were received on that subject.
“This has been an item that has, admittedly, surprised me,” said Hull. “This is my eighth, and perhaps final year at the table, and in that time I’ve had the unfortunate task of having to make some difficult decisions.”
“On this issue, I was adamant in my support and I don’t retract that because I believe as elected officials we are elected to put forward our best position based on the facts we have at hand,” he said. “I was surprised at the ferocity of response.”
Controversy over the downtown archway project began when Collingwood Downtown BIA’s general manager Susan Nicholson came to council at the beginning of March 2022 with an update on the project, indicating the new feature could be standing at First and Hurontario Streets as early as the summer.
The project is a BIA initiative, covered in the BIA budget, which is funded through a levy attached to the property tax bill for downtown commercial buildings. Since the presentation in March, the BIA was notified it had qualified for a federal grant for $280,000 for both the First and Hurontario Street arch, as well as a second gateway feature at Hurontario and Hume Streets, as well as some other downtown projects.
The project was proposed due to a wayfinding signage report commissioned by the town and BIA in 2017 which concluded the downtown was not easy to find for newcomers to the area and a gateway feature might help.
Soon after Nicholson’s update in March, comments, emails, and letters flooded into town hall, council and local media opposing the archway, and expressing particular disdain for the design – a black metal arch with white font reading “Historic Downtown Collingwood” on one side, and “Historic Harbourfront Collingwood” on the other.
Among the comments were accusations the project was heading to approval without public consultation.
On April 19, councillors voted in favour of proceeding to public consultation on the archway project.
At the end of discussion on Monday, Hull put forward a motion to direct staff to collaboratively work with the BIA to come up with concepts on how best to use the federal grant dollars to better the community.
“(This way) we can come forward with a project that we, as a community, are proud of,” said Hull.
Coun. Kathy Jeffery asked if the ideas put forward by residents as part of the public consultation survey could also be included for consideration in the work, which was added to the motion.
Council voted unanimously in favour of the motion. Coun. Bob Madigan recused himself from voting on the matter, and Coun. Chris Carrier was absent from the meeting.