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My perspective on the start of discussions with the City of Kitchener and Cadan on the future of the Tannery District


Regular readers of this blog are likely wondering what my perspective is on the meeting between the City of Kitchener, Cadan (developer behind the Tannery District) and concerned citizens. It may surprise you that I was not initially invited to participate but when I asked if I could, I was brought into the process. I am glad that I was there because my angle on this issue is how the project affects the revitalization of downtown Kitchener and the economic development of the region and it helped to have me at the table to address this in addition to the other legitimate concerns.

Here is a story that appeared in today’s Record. It is a good overview of the meeting from the viewpoint of those interviewed. I am especially pleased to see the comments of Rick Haldenby, director of the University of Waterloo’s school of architecture.

Here’s what I learned and my initial thoughts.

How the meeting ended

It became clear that one meeting was only a starting point for discussions especially since a chunk of it was spent touring the main complex and peeking into a couple of the smaller buildings.

Four issues were identified for follow-up:

  • Concerns about the Heritage Impact Assessments
  • Concerns about the planning process in terms of the official plan
  • Downtown parking
  • The vision for the Tannery District and how it relates to the revitalization of the downtown

Follow up meetings are scheduled on each of these issues. Everyone in attendance which issues they would like to discuss. For me, that’s the latter two.

Parking

There was a general consensus that we weren’t really there to discuss parking. So I was disappointed to see that emphasized in a quote from Lana Sherman in today’s Record emphasizing it. At the same time, it cast an enormous shadow over the meeting and was discussed. Here’s what I learned.

  • Cadan estimates a need for 700 spaces once the block under renovation is finished and fully occupied which could be as early as the end of 2010.
  • No hard numbers exist for how many spaces are actually needed or when so it was difficult to evaluate the need and the timing of any additional parking. It is also unknown how many people working there may walk, bike, car pool or use Grand River Carshare or Grand River Transit (maybe with discounted passes).
  • Removing the four smaller buildings (the Hide House, Boiler House, the Bonded Warehouse and the Water Softener Building) would create 75-80 spaces.
  • We were told the site currently only has 60 spaces but that is just those at Victoria and Charles and but that does not include the 60-65 spaces in between the four buildings being used on the other block.
  • 200 spaces in the Charles and Benton garage will be available in the fall until the Bramm Workyards is available in the summer of 2011
  • The warehouse at 280 Joseph Street is owned by the University of Waterloo. The paved spaces on either side will be used for parking (as suggested here) but only until the end of August when I’m told the University will want them for students/faculty. Could some of these spaces continue to be used by the Tannery? How many spaces could be gained if the University took down that building so its students and faculties could enjoy a people place across the street?

The lack of hard numbers and timelines on when they are needed makes it difficult at this point to evaluate whether gaining 75-80 spots justifies tearing down heritage buildings. Until proven otherwise, I don’t see any reason why parking should drive the demolition of these heritage buildings. It’s a rather permament solution for a “temporary” use.

Plans for the Joseph/Victoria/Oak/Linden Block

Cadan admitted they changed their plans for this site after discussions with the city that this use was not part of the vision for downtown Kitchener. This change demonstrates to me that the City has influence in the process and could use its persuasive power to have the current buildings and the spaces that surround remain intact as part of the “Tannery District.”

Cadan preferred to talk about what will replace the temporary parking lot. At the same time, there are no specific details on what will be done. What we do know is that they want to put in a temporary gravel parking lot. I was pleased to learn that the city now has regulations that limited this use to three years. On the flip side, the regulation requires that if the space is to continue to be a parking lot that it must be paved and receive aesthetic improvements. There is nothing to force the developer to build anything on that land nor that would guarantee any visions discussed now would be realized. That makes me nervous that there will be a parking lot on that site long term.

Lana Sherman said to me that they would be helping the city in its intensification efforts. While that is true the same thing can be said of other nearby converted factories and shopping malls. So far the evidence is that bringing people downtown to work doesn’t create a street life and neither does having them live there if there is nothing nearby to inspire them to walk around.

The upside

In a one on one discussion with Lana Sherman from Cadan and around the table, she said that what I was describing was the same as what they were talking about in terms of the vitality of the district as a place for people including in the evening and on weekends. That gave me hope that we could find a win-win solution to implement this shared vision. Unfortunately, we differ on whether that vision includes the heritage buildings and the courtyards between them.

If we should lose the heritage buildings, I will remain committed to fulfilling the vision off a people place with as much character and open spaces as possible. I plan to remain involved in the process to ensure that happens.

The downside

Cadan’s vision clearly does not include adaptively reusing any of the buildings. They do not believe they are significant from a heritage standpoint and are unattractive. But the real stumbling block is that they don’t see them as being economically viable and that is why a true Tannery District built for people is at risk.

The process should include a look at how the second block can remain part of the Tannery District

I don’t think a strong enough desire has existed to make that conclusion or even to investigate. Up until recently, the site was slated for parking long term.

My hope lies on continuing to build public pressure on the City and Cadan so that this path can be investigated.

From what I saw on the tour, the buildings definitely have some challenges. But I also know that the main building did as well. One of my strongest memories is the constant smell of sour milk on the main floor. I also saw the Distillery District before it was developed and know that those buildings also have many challenges as described in a video posted earlier.

I could still see the possibilities for the heritage area that is at risk and remain committed to it. The buildings would make great places for the artsy, eclectic mix of uses found in the Distillery District. The spaces between them could attract crowds of people and feature patios, outside art display and special events. I’m not convinced the existing plans will do anything more than give office workers a place to have a short break outside.

I am a firm believer that where there is will there is a way. We’re slowly making progress but still have a long way to go before the decision makers possess the will needed.

Heritage concerns

I asked at the meeting why there were two Heritage Impact Assessments for what has historically been one site and is being developed by a single developer. I was told it was because when the first was done, there were no plans for the second block. Fine but when one was needed for the second block, why wasn’t it done on the overall site? The heritage case for the buildings in question is strongest when connected to the main complex as part of a “heritage landscape.”

You will not see/hear me referring to Site A and Site B. They have always been used as one site and that is still the plan no matter what goes on the second block so I will treat them as one.

Invitation for guest blogs

I would like to invite the people involved in these discussions to use this space as a public forum to present relevant information. This blog itself is an example of the strong interest that exists in Kitchener about the future of the Tannery District and its implications for the downtown. Since my first post on this issue there have not been fewer than 40 visits (except on the long weekend) and there has been as many as 157 (four days have had 90+ views). No wonder at least one blogger thinks there is broad support.

For example:

  • Cadan is welcome to present its vision for the Tannery District.
  • Mayor Zehr or City Councillors may wish to speak directly to readers who have demonstrated an interest in this issue.
  • the concerns about the heritage assessment and planning process have not been presented in detail here.

Who are you? What do you think?

The city believes that the scope of the project is not understood and Cadan doesn’t believe that there is widespread support to keep the buildings as part of the Tannery District. Are they right? Am I wrong? Please leave a comment indicating what you think.

I know that:

  • There are 222 people who have joined a Save the Lang Buildings Facebook group. The members represent quite a broad cross section of the population. Please consider joining.
  • There are now 94 people who have joined the official Tannery District page which is 50 more than when I first called on people to join as a way of expressing their views directly to Cadan. Please consider joining and leaving a comment there.
  • 75-80 people attended a city council meeting (no easy feat) and many spoke as delegations

A positive step forward

I believe that the best things that came out of the meeting was that it kick-started a discussion. Instead of talking about each other or hearing what concerns were second hand, we’re now talking to each other. I only wish we had started to do so sooner. I thanked both Cadan and City staff after the meeting for undertaking this process because I believe that the more we talk the more positive the process will be and the more likely we are to have a positive outcome.

Now that we know each other as people and meeting face to face, we’re in a place where we can create a space that draws people to a lively street life downtown.

 

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3 comments on “My perspective on the start of discussions with the City of Kitchener and Cadan on the future of the Tannery District

  1. Thanks for being there, James. I admire your commitment to this issue and your sense of “steady as she goes” as an approach. Needless to say, but I will anyway, there are many of us who support your position that all the buildings must be kept in order for the site to be a true “district”. And parking lots do not a community make!

  2. Dear James,
    Thank you for your dedication and for keeping us informed. I am convinced that yet another parking lot around the Lang building will be a loss for the Kitchener community. The Record article mentioned a petition collecting signatures. Do you know how/where I can sign the petition?

    • Hi,
      Currently, the petition is at Wordsworth Books, Gen X Video, and Eating Well organically in Waterloo. In Kitchener, at Encore Records and Athletic Direct.

      I have to follow up with owners at a couple other places I’d like to put it, since weekend staff couldn’t say OK to taking it.

      I will post a full list tomorrow.

      Or if you’d like to get in touch with me directly, I’ll make sure you can sign, even if I have to bring it to you!

      James is doing a great job with all the info here. It’s hard to believe this is really happening sometimes, that these buildings are considered useless junk by the developer and by the city. they have value in so many ways, and that will be gone, forever. Such a short-sighted, ill-informed decision. Such a problematic process when it comes to the legitimate interest the public has in issues like this.

      Thanks

      Wendy Rofihe
      wrofihe@gmail.com

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