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The Tannery District is dead. Long live the Tannery District?


Last Monday proved to be a turning point in the debate over the future of the Tannery District’s smaller buildings. Even thought there was no vote at a City Council committee meeting, the arguments to preserve the four buildings for heritage reasons were effectively laid to rest. I understand it was obvious that neither City Council nor Cadan had been persuaded to preserve the buildings as a part of Kitchener’s built heritage or even to take a second look and so a peer review of the Heritage Impact Assessments (HIA) would not be requested nor would a single HIA for the complete district be requested retroactively.

I am forced to concede that the Tannery District will not incorporate the smaller buildings on the second block and that it will be cleared for a surface parking lot. As a result, my preferred vision for the Tannery District is dead.

But does that mean that a true Tannery District built for people is dead? My answer is no.

Why I have hope for the Tannery District

  • When I described my vision for the Tannery District, Lana Sherman of Cadan repeatedly assured me that we were both describing the same vibrant people place that was lively evenings and weekends and not simply an 9 – 5 business development.
  • In a television interview, Mayor Zehr suggested that incorporating one or two of the buildings may be possible.

One issue outstanding

At the original meeting between citizens, Cadan and the City organized by City of Kitchener CAO Carla Ladd, four issues were identified for follow up. Concerns about three of them—the heritage impact assessment, concerns about how the official plan was being applied and parking—have been addressed.

One remains to be addressed: developing and implementing a vision for the Tannery District as a lively, people place. At that time, Ms. Ladd suggested that I be involved in developing this vision. I remain interested and look forward to helping to shape this process to benefit downtown Kitchener and this region’s economy.

With the heritage debate that by its nature tended towards confrontation concluded, I retain hope for decisions that can deliver a district that makes us proud.

How we can still have a true Tannery District

  • Keep one or two buildings – I hope that decision-makers take a serious second look at the future of the four buildings to determine if even one or two of them could be preserved to be incorporated into the future plans. I looked inside the back of the Boiler House one day and it definitely had good bones and a lot of potential for reuse. I also expect that one or both of the long buildings have great potential.
  • Rent the University of Waterloo’s warehouse at 280 Joseph St. – Currently without a tenant, the City of Kitchener could lease the warehouse to store materials normally stored at the Bramm workyards and open up spaces on that site sooner than otherwise would be possible. Doing so would also put the City in the driver’s seat on how the paved portions on either side of the warehouse are used, creating more temporary parking places. Maybe Cadan could help to cover the cost for the new parking spaces? Maybe the University of Waterloo could give favourable terms for this arrangement?
  • Reuse material in the redevelopment of the second Tannery block – Cadan has been careful at keeping materials removed from the main complex so that they can reuse them. I encourage them to take the same approach when removing the smaller buildings. Reusing the material would help to provide a sense of the character that I loved about the original buildings. If they need storage space, there’s a warehouse available for rent at 280 Joseph!
  • Make it an arts district with open spaces outdoors that are inviting to the public – All of the principles of creating a dynamic people place that have been outlined in this space need to be incorporated into the redevelopment of the second block if it is to have life beyond the 9 to 5. I’d suggest that a conscious decision be made when planning to develop a funky, artsy area with a philosophy mirroring the Distillery District. A must for attracting people and keep them lingering are large open spaces that invite people to use them who do not work there. Spaces that encourage people to gather, people watch and explore. Places that naturally lend themselves to festivals and outdoor celebrations of the arts. Doing so complement the efforts to bring King Street to life and helps to move people between King and Victoria Park.
  • Involving citizens in the planning process – I would like to work with Cadan and the City on how the Tannery as a complete District is developed and I expect some of the other “friends of the Tannery District” would also like to be involved. I look forward to an invitation to be involved in this process.
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2 comments on “The Tannery District is dead. Long live the Tannery District?

  1. It’s too bad. I thought it was hopeless from the start (to try to save the buildings) and usually I’m optimistic. This time it just didn’t seem to get any traction. You did a lot, all you could.

  2. Good for you , James, to retain your optimism in the face of what to others of us felt like defeat last week. Your positive approach is just what is needed and I sincerely hope that Cadan will see the wisdom of adding your voice to the planning group for the unfortunately designated “Site B”. Kudos to John MacDonald and Wendy and others who spoke so well last week and put so much time and energy into promoting a vibrant outcome for the site.

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