Whatever fate awaits the former Boardwalk on Thames condo project, a nearby local business manager is hoping city hall pays more attention to the effect it has had on local businesses.
Craig Francis, manager at Chatham Kent Pawn Brokers, located just east of the project on King Street, said his business suffered “huge losses” because of on-street parking spots given to Everlast starting in May 2013.
“We tried to be a good neighbour, but I’m really disappointed in how things just kept dragging on and dragging on,” he said. “We lost three spots, and if it wasn’t for the CIBC, I think we wouldn’t have even gotten the handicapped parking spot back.”
The controversial $50 million project has apparently been mothballed by the Everlast group. No workers are at the site and firms doing business on the project have been advised.
It has been reported in 2013 that Everlast had sold 80% of the 113 units in the 12-storey building that was supposed to be completed and occupied last year.
Francis said he contacted city officials numerous times complaining about construction debris, parking and other issues, but couldn’t get the problems resolved.
“We would have cement trucks surrounding our building at the front, the Cenotaph area and the back. We couldn’t even get the city sidewalk snowplow to do the front of our store but all I was ever told was that Everlast had the right do pretty well do whatever they wanted. I’m just working at a pawn shop so I don’t count for much.”
Francis said he is concerned that even speaking with the media could result in his license not bring renewed.
“I don’t have a lot of faith that city hall looks after anyone but the big players. Victor (Everlast developer Victor Boutin) has money and influence at city hall and I don’t.”
Francis said despite the effect on his business, he was hoping the Boardwalk would proceed.
“I think it would be good for downtown so I bit my tongue as long as I could, but at some point enough is enough.”
Historic Downtown Chatham BIA board member Nancy Labadie said she was disappointed to see the work stoppage.
“We believe one key to a healthy downtown core is residential development. This was going to be the crown jewel of that.”
Labadie said the BIA “absolutely” wants to see the project proceed, either with Everlast or another developer.
“We have tremendous success with family events such as Retrofest and Firefest and having residents downtown will make that even stronger.”
Francis said his business aim is to change the public perception of pawnshops.
“We have lots of good merchandise and fair prices,” he said. “I have an excellent relationship with the Chatham police. This is a reputable business, and until people couldn’t get to our store, things were going well. It’s not a good thing when I see people who were my customers going elsewhere because they have to walk a long way to get to us.”
Francis said business has picked up during the last three weeks since Everlast workers were on break and the parking spots outside his business were open.
“They were good fellows, I got to know a lot of them and I’m really sorry they might be out of work,” he said. “I hope they find something else.”