With a little creativity, tannery buildings could be a downtown draw


The Record published a column that I submitted on the Tannery on June 1. The full text follows but here is the link to it on The Record’s website:


The debate over the future of the Lang Tannery is not about parking. The debate is really about what kind of downtown Kitchener wants, needs and deserves, and what quality of life Waterloo Region offers to the people who live here, especially the creative class.

Keep in mind that community leaders have repeatedly told us our future depends upon our success in attracting and retaining the creative class. The Prosperity Council, through its Creative Enterprise Initiative, have made this a top priority because it believes the economic development of our region depends upon it.

In his vision for making Waterloo Region the knowledge capital of Canada, David Johnston, the president of the University of Waterloo, agreed. He set out 10 goals — with number nine being the creation of a vibrant cultural centre. He argued, “We ought to preserve the personality of our urban centres – [Richard] Florida’s creative class likes old neighbourhoods and locally owned shops and restaurants, rather than cookie-cutter suburbs; we need ‘walkable streets’ and revitalized urban spaces.”

The question we need to answer is, Does Kitchener want a pedestrian-friendly people place that creates street life and helps us to attract and retain the creative class? If the answer is yes, we must make the tannery a true district made for people.

Neither of the alternatives proposed by the developer—a parking lot or a mixed use building—will help us create a vibrant downtown. Both continue a pattern of creating places for people to work in the core before returning to their suburban homes.

What we need is a place that has life during normal business hours while attracting people from the suburbs to the downtown in the evenings or on the weekends. The four tannery buildings in danger of demolition present this opportunity. But if these heritage buildings disappear for parking — a rather permanent solution for a temporary problem — we lose forever the chance to use our past to create a better future.

I was among those excited when Cadan Inc. announced plans for the tannery district, and I remain supportive. I was a bit confused at first though because the name implied a project similar to the distillery district in Toronto. It too was a series of industrial buildings that now boasts an eclectic, artsy mix of uses such as a brewery, offices, a theatre and restaurants. But it is the wide open pedestrian-friendly spaces between the buildings and the shared experiences created when people gather that really bring the distillery neighbourhood to life.

When I connected the main tannery complex to the four buildings across Joseph Street and the wide open spaces surrounding them, I understood how the tannery could be a true district for people. We have the chance to recreate the distillery’s successful formula by including the smaller buildings as a part of the project.

A large number of people have come together to call upon the stakeholders to get creative and find a way to fulfill the promise of a “tannery district.” We have the right players in place to make this happen. Downtown Kitchener is turning a corner thanks to the active role played by the city, and Cadan has demonstrated it has the expertise to help us creatively adapt our industrial heritage. Together with other stakeholders, I am confident that both Cadan and the city can make this vision a reality with some creative thinking and innovative solutions.

Join us in saying that we want the revitalization of downtown Kitchener to feature a Tannery District built for people and that we need it to for our continued prosperity. By acting today to preserve our past, we make it happen. That is what everyone in Kitchener—past, present and future—deserves.

Please continue to show your support by writing letters to the editor of the Record, joining the The Tannery District’s official Facebook page, the Save the Lang Buildings Facebook group or signing Wendy’s petition at any of the locations that she has posted here.

Please also leave a comment here that helps show the strength and diversity of support for adaptive reuse of these buildings.

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