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Central transit hub: An exciting development (with a tinge of disappointment)


Updated Nov. 26

Today’s Record featured a good article showing the positive reaction to the news about the central transit hub. It provides some more details about what the project might include and clarifies that it’s early in the process. Read it here.

The Record also published an editorial endorsing assembling the land to be used in a way that connects our various forms of mass and public transit. Unfortunately for people who get their news online, it is only available in the print version at this point.

Revised Nov. 25 7:30 p.m.

I was very excited to learn that the Region of Waterloo has purchased land for a central transit hub that will be developed along Victoria Street between King and Duke. Seeing the  hub move from “wouldn’t it be great if” to becoming a real prospect is super news for both public transit and downtown Kitchener.

One thing that I heard a lot in discussing light rail is the need to connect our different forms of transit so that people can move easily from one to another. This desire includes being able to use transit inside Waterloo Region to get to cities outside the region such as Toronto. A central transit hub helps knit together different forms of transit so that they all work together and support each other.

The news is also exciting for downtown Kitchener. The central transit hub is an important new contribution to the revitalization of the west end of downtown Kitchener. It works to enhance the other nearby developments that have been recently built such as the Schools of Pharmacy and Medicine, are in process of being developed such as the Tannery or are proposed to be developed such as the Breithaupt Block.

I strongly support in principle the proposed central transit hub and applaud the Region of Waterloo for acting to pull together the land needed to make it happen.

A lost opportunity

Yet I greeted the news with mixed emotion. Wouldn’t it have been great to have the central transit hub so close to a pedestrian-friendly district with great spaces for people and an eclectic mix of arts, culture and restaurants–something like Toronto’s Distillery District. Something that was within our grasp.

So I was disappointed to learn that the Region of Waterloo could have helped make the Tannery a true district for people. The recent addition of the land holding the former Korean store could also have helped meet the need (as I had suggested). This land presented the opportunity for the temporary solution required to extend the life of the buildings on the second half of the Tannery site–enough time to take the pressure off the developer to provide parking immediately and give them time to figure out how to fulfill the promise of a “Tannery District.”

This realization reinforces what I was saying at the time that if the will existed a solution could be found. In this case, it’s an opportunity lost. It’s too bad because I think the transit hub and the vision of creating a people place on the Tannery lands would have been mutually beneficial while also benefiting downtown Kitchener and our region’s economic development.

Note: I had originally thought that the  Noble Trade site was empty and could have been cleared to make space for Tannery parking. I now understand that it is still being used by Noble. My apologies. I was thinking of the former End of the Roll location on that site that is empty because it has moved down Victoria Street. (It’s now on Frederick at Victoria.)

Opportunities gained

But what is done is done.

There are opportunities that this news creates:

  • One of the smaller Tannery buildings remains standing. Moving to create parking on the central transit hub lands can help to save it long term so that it can be incorporated into the redevelopment of the second Tannery block.
  • A downside of the recent GO train announcement is the lack of parking for people wanting to use it. I am not sure how the timelines match but I hope that the central transit hub lands could be temporarily used for this purpose until development of this project needs to begin. A best case scenario would see that temporary use replaced by GO’s proposed parking site in east Kitchener.
  • The land assembled for the central transit hub includes the former Rumpel Felt factory. I hope that this building can be given new life by being incorporated into the hub. Doing so would help to retain the character of the “Warehouse District” by again finding a creative new use for part of the core’s industrial past.
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10 comments on “Central transit hub: An exciting development (with a tinge of disappointment)

  1. Good write up James
    I agree, it seems that clearing Noble for Parking may have been a valid option. One consideration – it may have tipped off the owner of the grocery store (not purchased until recently) that it was Region assembling the land, driving the price per acre even higher

    @benjaminbach

    • True enough Benjamin! I realize there are many layers of complexity in these situations. But I can’t help thinking “What if?”

      Additional response: I was wrong about being able to use the Noble site for parking since it’s still in use. But the site can still be considered as a temporary parking solution at some point down the road if the building becomes vacant before redevelopment is ready to occur.

  2. I am a little confused by your sense of a lost opportunity. If the improved transit systems are desirable to provide a much-needed alternative to vehicle traffic, is it not ideal that the new hub be close to the Tannery so that people can easily take the transit to this new district?
    I would prefer to see the UHaul building and parking areas transformed – perhaps into parking for the area. Certainly there appears to be much unused space still in that district which could be productively transformed.

    • I guess Mandy that it depends upon how you define the Tannery. For me, the lost opportunity is how it could have been developed as inspired by the Distillery District with the smaller buildings on the second block and the wide open spaces between them. See my blog posts from the spring if you are looking for more on this vision. The lands in question could have helped provide the temporary solution that was needed to meet the need for parking until other options came online. For me, that’s the lost opportunity.

      For the Tannery as it’s being developed, today’s news is indeed exciting.

      I suspect at sometime down the road we’ll see the UHaul building site be redeveloped. With everything that is happening nearby, there must be greater value in using that space in other ways. Its a great candidate for intensification.

      Additional comment: Even if the building that is now use in part by Noble Trade could not have been removed, the parking spaces for customers and clients of the other unit and space reserved for delivery trucks could have been temporarily be used to help relieve the pressure that lead to the removal of the three smaller Tannery building on its second block. There may even have been a way to use the inside of the empty retail unit.

  3. James has realised that the council had the power to achieve better things at the Tannery but apparently declined to do so, in fact aiding and abetting destruction of older buildings with value. Myself I am frightened by the scale of property development the Council engages in, I find it strange, unsophisticated lacking due process, transparency all those values of normal democratic government.

    Mysteriously too when the towns only regular transit connection was disrupted 2 or 3 years ago by Greyhound’s move to a tent at Sportsworld the council couldn’t have had less power in transit matters!

    I don’t know enough about other mid-size cities in Ontario but it seems exceptional behaviour. I hope this latest massive land deal was fully resourced with independant professionals advising, including assessing the business case for this development and all the risk factors involved before spending tax payers money. I am suspicious of arguments for secrecy -always wary of that! I am told a development agency is proposed and as a building professional a little less wild west and a bit more grown-up behaviour would be reassuring.

    • I’m a bit surprised you are not more enthusiastic Lisa. Today’s news is definitely along the line of what you’ve been desiring to see.

      I hear your concerns about municipal governments being involved in development but I’m more open to it than you are. The secrecy in this case was necessary in order to get the land needed at the best price and avoiding any need for expropriation.

      I think the Region was wise to assemble the land for the purpose of a central transit hub that will see our transit infrastructure leap forward by light years and I believe is and has traditionally been the role of government to create this sort of facility.

      • Not at all. I’m not a transit nut, just a person trying to live a life without the necessary infrastructure!
        Surely everyone including the owners knew what was proposed for the site (I knew), I’m not convinced about the need for secrecy. Like Dan I realise the complexity of what is propsed which could result in a massive bottleneck too.
        But you are right traditionally governments do build transit infrastructure, what happened here then?

      • I can’t explain what has happened. I think it’s just that public/mass transit hasn’t been a high priority locally. The car has been king.

        I’m glad that we’re now changing the paradigm and making public/mass transit a priority and thinking about it as a cohesive, inter-connected whole.

  4. Hi James , this is indeed good news however the proposed tunnel on King Street will be interesting. A long area is needed to make a tunnel as such work. Will it be the obstruction to the Hub and the School of Pharmacy. What about right and left turns from Victoria. What about the mall on the other side of the tracks and the new initiative, The Breithaupt Block. Will it close the Breithaupt Street access and increase traffic flows to Louisa Street. How will this impact on LRT/mass transit; the cost of services, snow removal, etc. I can only imagine that this will be a very large landscape change. As far as Noble Trade is concerned I believe they still have a long term lease in place. I spoke to U-Haul several months ago about selling their property and emphatically they said not a chance. But I’m sure the right amount of $$ will talk.

    • Thanks for contributing this information to the discussion Denis. I’m not aware of the tunnel proposal. I suspect there’s a difference though between what might be desired and what will actually come into being. Considerations such as you suggest could influence the difference between the two.

      Your comments also indicate the complexity of these types of developments and that there are many factors that come into play that may not be obvious above the surface.

      Thanks for helping me realize that I was wrong about the Noble location.

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