OPINION: City Mall

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Developers, from left, Pete Tsirimbis, Rob Myers, Don Tetrault, Jessica Tsirimbis, and Ron Nydam unveiled bold plans for the Downtown Chatham Centre June 7. Business partner Jim Bullock is not shown.

Placing the hub of our municipal government in the heart of Chatham. What a novel concept.

Kudos to the owners of the Downtown Chatham Centre (DCC) for putting the concept forward.

Of course, they’re idea is to basically put local government right back where it once was. Up until the late 1970s, Harrison Hall occupied a portion of the DCC real estate.

With downtown malls being out of vogue for years, it is past time to pay homage to our past, where the former City of Chatham once housed the bulk of its operations. Unfortunately, Harrison Hall, a wonderful historical building, is no more.

But developers Rob Myers, Don Tetrault, Ron Nydam, Jim Bullock, and Pete and Jessica Tsirimbis has put forward a smart proposal to council that is hard to ignore.

The development team wants to renovate the Sears structure to house the municipal operations from the Civic Centre, the Chatham Public Library and the Cultural Centre.

They renovate and sell it to the municipality. And the municipality in the meantime works to divest itself of three buildings of its own.

First off, the Civic Centre is in need of major upgrades, as repairs to the HVAC system alone would cost in excess of $10 million and climbing. It would have to be sold. Ditto for the library and the Cultural Centre.

The reality is the municipality has dozens and dozens of surplus old buildings that it has to keep maintained, but should consider selling off and consolidating operations.

It’s a drag on lifecycle expenditures, when the funds could be better utilized repaving roads or repairing bridges.

A second phase of development at the DCC site would be the construction of a 4,000-seat arena, which the developers also want to sell to the municipality.

Chatham Memorial Arena is more than 70 years old. Its best-before date has come and gone.

But is a 4,000-seat arena the answer? It is if an OHL team is a desired tenant. It is if larger concerts and other events are desired.

It all does sound wonderful in terms of downtown revitalization and development. But what’s not on the table at this point is the cost of such a move. It has to make financial sense for the municipality to make the shift.

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