With the Downtown Chatham Centre proposal set to come back before council Aug. 8, I had a chance to chat with two of the developers recently to address questions that have surfaced from the public.
Rob Myers and Ron Nydam, part of the team that purchased the mall and wants to work with the municipality to develop the proposed CK Community Hub and Entertainment Complex, hope to see council move forward with the project.
Myers and Nydam, along with fellow developers Don Tetrault, Jim Bullock, and Jessica and Pete Tsirimbis, have proposed moving the operations of the Civic Centre, the Chatham Public Library and the Cultural Centre into the vacant Sears building in the first phase of a large-scale downtown redevelopment.
Dubbed “Imagine Chatham-Kent,” the second phase would see a 3,500-4,000-seat entertainment complex with an ice surface built on the mall’s current footprint.
An outdoor festival area, bright and airy flex meeting spaces and a revamped historic-looking streetscape on King Street are also in the plan.
The next step for the project takes place Monday, when public feedback on the proposal returns to council along with a report from administration outlining costs.
Why do you want to do this in Chatham-Kent?
“I’ve got kids and grandkids here. They need something here,” Nydam said. “My son and daughter went away to school. I didn’t think they’d come back to Chatham-Kent. This will help retain the youth.
“I do buildings all across Ontario and work on a lot of projects in downtowns. To see the difference from some of these communities in comparison to Chatham, there is something that definitely needs to happen in Chatham-Kent. This may not be everything, but it’s certainly a giant step forward,” he added.
There are people who don’t think there’s enough room for combining all those municipal services into the Sears building. What do you say to that?
“Look at it. Study it. Take the time to understand it. We’ve laid it out. The museum and the Cultural Centre will have more space,” Myers said.
Some say the Sears building is not in good shape.
“The building is the best in all of downtown Chatham,” Nydam said. “That building is very, very sound.”
What do you say to the people who are speaking out against it on social media?
“People need to understand the details of the project,” Myers said. “Understand the facts. If you don’t understand them, ask a councillor. Don’t just criticize the concept without knowing the facts.”
What about the cost to the public?
“The Civic Centre needs massive renovations. The library is desperately in need of more space for new programming. They have no room. The Cultural Centre is outdated and needs a new life,” Myers said. “We can do the renovations (at the Sears building) for probably less. They (the municipality) would be making a wise move.”
And Phase Two, the entertainment complex?
“We’re going to donate the land. I see donations coming in for the arena,” Myers said. “Heck, give this project some time, say 24 months.”
One rumour is that you purchased an OHL franchise and will relocated it here.
“No, I did not buy an OHL hockey team nor do I have interest in it. I think the Maroons are a staple here in C-K,” Myers said.
What about Memorial Arena and other existing buildings?
“Go and look at what we currently have. See how desperately in need this municipality is for up-to-date facilities in our current arena,” Myers said. “Also ask anyone who works at city hall how they enjoy working there. Water leaks everywhere, mould, an HVAC system that is worn out.”
Why the sports and entertainment centre?
“We’ve spoken to enough other cities and municipalities that have great sports and entertainment complexes,” Myers said. “This could attract people to town and give them something to do. It’s not just hockey, but concerts, volleyball, basketball, indoor soccer even.”
Some people allege the development team is just in it for the money. Care to comment?
“I can guarantee anyone that the profit motivation in this project for me is zero,” Myers said. “I’ve chosen to live here and raise my family here, but I don’t make my living here.”
What do you say to thoughts on putting the decision in the hands of the next council?
“The reality is how many (council) seats will have new bodies in them?” Myers asked. “Also, anyone would think this is a great thing for this community.”
If council were to approve the matter on Aug. 8, what then?
“There are still more steps to go,” Myers said. “We want it done right so our integrity is not being questioned. At that point, everyone would have the opportunity to understand this project in more detail and have a better perspective of its depth.”
What happens if the municipality approaches the proposal too slowly?
“One of the things that’s the hardest to get across is that this is an opportunity for all of Chatham-Kent. And that opportunity is not going to be there forever,” Nydam added. “If you want to drag it out, I don’t think any of us are interested, and costs will continue to rise.”
“I would hate to see this downtown project get delayed with no end in sight. If that’s the case, it won’t happen; our group will do something else with this property,” Myers said. “We have thought of many things, but it’s not our desire. Our desire is to do something great for Chatham-Kent.”