C-K one step closer to getting its ‘city mall’

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(Image courtesy Sarah Schofield/The Chatham Voice)

By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Municipal council has taken another step toward moving operations from the Chatham-Kent Civic Centre to the Downtown Chatham Centre.

Following a lengthy discussion, council voted 11 to 5 Monday night to further explore two options under the Imagine Chatham-Kent proposal.

The possibilities include creating new space for the library and museum at the site, as well as moving municipal headquarters to the new location.

The proposal includes purchasing the old Sears building in the mall from a Chatham-based investors group. Extensive renovations would feature a 35,000 sq.-ft. library, an expansive space for the C-K museum, and a unique multi-purpose room where council meetings would be held.

The other option involves administration preparing a detailed building and safety assessment of the Civic Centre, with a report to come back to council.

Staff has been directed to report back to council on the initiative.

Elected officials who voted in favour of moving to the mall said it’s all about opportunity.

Mayor Darrin Canniff said moving to the DCC is a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” that shouldn’t be missed.

Canniff said the new facility will be a “blank canvas,” noting a “wonderful new amenity” will be created that will draw people to Chatham-Kent.

“As everyone knows, we are a growing a community and we’re competing with 443 other municipalities for people,” Canniff said. “We can provide housing for them; we can provide a job. What they’re looking for are amenities that are over and above that.”

The mayor explained that a new facility can be created for $6 million, a possibility he never “dreamed of.”

Shared service synergies and security are also factors, Canniff said.

“I want an amazing facility that when people walk in, they say, ‘Wow, I’m proud to be in Chatham-Kent because of this facility,’” Canniff explained. “It’s not just about Chatham; it’s about Chatham-Kent.”

According to an administrative report, the estimated cost of the Imagine C-K project is around $53 million.

Renovating the Civic Centre would require an estimated $37 million. That leaves a disparity of costs between the two possible routes at $16 million.

However, the combined market-value sale of the Chatham library building and the Civic Centre would deliver an estimated $9.3 million. That would mean the municipality would spend an additional $6 million to gain the new facility versus remaining in the Civic Centre.

The report states the investors have revised the purchase price of the former Sears building, excluding the parking garage, at around $2.9 million.

Bruce McAllister, general manager of community development for C-K, said many variables still exist, including negotiating and finalizing the purchase of the Sears building, along with extensive design work. McAllister said all matters relating to the project still need to come back to council for approval.

“The next step is to come to an agreement and terms of purchase,” McAllister said.

In speaking in favour of relocating to the DCC, Chatham Coun. Marjorie Crew said downtown Chatham needs attention.

Crew said downtown residents have told her Chatham-Kent needs to start, investing it the downtown, noting the empty mall is a liability.

Putting more people in the downtown area is positive and will reduce crime to “make it safe, make it vital and make it vibrant,” Crew said, adding the municipality is lucky to have investors who want to help revitalize the downtown core.

“We need to trust in our investors, trust in ourselves and invest in our people,” Crew told council.

Chatham Coun. Michael Bondy said Imagine Chatham-Kent provides an opportunity to “breathe some very imaginative new life into the old mall.

“If we don’t (do this) then what happens with the mall?” Bondy asked. “We’ve got an opportunity to save our downtown.”

Prior to the decision, council heard three deputations on the issue, including one from Rob Myers, one of the investors who owns the DCC.

The successful businessman, known for his passion for restoring historic buildings, told council it’s not about the money.

“For some of you, it may be thought that our group is only trying to profit from this development,” Myers said. “But I assure you, I’m not looking to profit out of this…I’m looking to revitalize downtown Chatham. Any profit I was to make on this, I would be happy to give back to the museum. It’s not about money, it’s about developing downtown.”

Myers pointed out that Chatham’s Retro Suites hotel, which he developed, is one of the “highlights of the city,” listed in Trip Advisor as one of the best boutique hotels in Canada.

“I think this shopping centre can do the same,” Myers said. However, he said the investors, who have owned the mall for three years are becoming impatient, noting “it’s time to make a decision.”

In his deputation, Chatham-Kent Public Library Board chair Robert Clarke, spoke out against moving the library, saying the majority of library patrons polled on the matter want the library to remain at its Queen Street location.

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