Yesterday, London Chamber of Commerce CEO Gerry Macartney decided to publicly weigh in on the controversy surrounding the PenEquity development on Wellington Rd S and Dingman Dr, just south of the 401. I have written extensively about the topic, and while I appreciate Mr. Macartney’s point of view on the subject as CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, I feel he’s off-base on several topics he addressed (not to mention he clearly hasn’t seen very many, if any, of the well written citizen blogs about the issue).
The PenEquity development is not a watershed moment for London. To believe that new retail development in London, or any city for that matter, is a “watershed moment” does the term “watershed” a great disservice. It’s certainly a high profile one given the tensions surrounding the issue, and the proposed location, but not a watershed moment.
I’ll agree that Sysco Canada choosing Woodstock over London for their distribution warehouse was a bit disappointing, but if I recall correctly there was very little discussion, if any, about Sysco in the media until after Sysco had chosen Woodstock. Was London ever in the running? Maybe not. I’ll give Mr. Macartney the benefit of the doubt in him having more “insider info” than I do, but Sysco never seemed to be on the radar until after we found out London wasn’t chosen for the location.
As for the Sun Life Industrial Park – please Mr. Macartney, give me a break. That was not going to be a boon of any sort to the local economy. It was a highly speculative venture that may or may not have panned out for Sun Life, and the potential tenants. Given the glut of empty warehouse and manufacturing space in the city, mostly on the east and south ends, I don’t see how Sun Life’s industrial park would have been filled in the middle of a recession. Sun Life pulled out because they saw the writing on the wall, and likely decided they could put all of their old paperwork elsewhere for the time being. If you’re going to bring up an issue like this one, let’s look at where the economy was going just as Sun Life decided to nix the entire proposal near the end of 2009.
Of course the City, and the rest of the County around it, will accept deals that cost money, don’t produce only 6 figure incomes, and impact the environment somehow. Have you not seen all of the new high-rise apartment buildings pop up downtown, near Oxford and Wonderland, and at Adelaide and Kipps? Lots of infill and brownfield development, which is much easier for the City to service and re-purposes existing land (as laid out in ReThink London – have you read that?). That’s smart development, if I do say so myself. There have also been several large industrial parks pop up on the east end near the airport, further south on Veterans Memorial Parkway, and of course we have the much-maligned SWAP moving forward somehow (though being ferociously challenged by many of the very developers that will eventually build there). Do yourself a favour and don’t make things are so full of shades of grey into a black and white issue. You’re doing yourself, and the Chamber, a great disservice.
As for the integrity of the woodland and “small pond” on the property, I would urge you to read the “Environmental & Parks Planning Section” of this document (starting on page 10) that went before council on June 25. You will note that, though a thorough assessment had not yet been done before this date, what PenEquity terms an “unevaluated vegetation patch” is of much greater importance than previously believed. In fact, that woodlot is helping to prevent the erosion of the very land PenEquity wants to build on. That sounds important, doesn’t it? As for the “small pond” created by run-off, I would argue that it’s a semi-natural pond now, and removing it could have disastrous consequences for any properties around it. Where do you suppose that water will go if that body of water is filled in and built on? Water doesn’t just disappear, you know? Given how that body of water was created, I would argue it’s actually serving a fairly significant purpose in preventing the flooding of the surrounding land. But neither you, nor I, are environmental experts.
To consider retail a “Gateway” is, dare I say, “old school” thinking. I fear you may not be keeping up with consumer trends. And to use Saks Fifth Avenue as an example of the type of shopping people will do at this new development, again, shows your state of mind. Saks Fifth Avenue is a very high end store that, in all reality, likely won’t do very well in London. And if it does, it will almost certainly be the death knell of similarly targeted local businesses that you don’t seem to care much about (Fisher & Co. and Channer’s come to mind). I am well aware that the City of London’s citizens need new jobs, but the funny thing is that a Saks Fifth Avenue, gas station, new cinema, etc. won’t be generating the types of jobs that keep Fisher & Co., Channer’s, or a Saks in business. Game development companies do, web development firms, manufacturing jobs, and other professional jobs do. I think you missed the “retail follows jobs” argument someone made recently, but it feels you’re thinking the other way around.
A lot of retail does move around, and the City already has plenty of empty properties ready for the filling by the very businesses you’re hoping PenEquity will bring to London. If you haven’t yet, take a look at this non-exhaustive list of under-developed retail properties I identified in June. As Chamber CEO, I would like to think you would be better off advocating for the family that owns London Mall to sell it to PenEquity, and entice PenEquity to snatch up that high visibility parcel of land, and turn it into something special.
Let’s look at some recent failings, in fact. Rona, Westmount Mall (which has been undergoing a hard fought renaissance for several years now, but still requires a great deal more tenants and traffic), and Citi Plaza has been going through a major redevelopment as well into a more office-friendly space, as well as the library relocating there, and only recently does it look to be viable for the future. Without the library, what would Citi Plaza look like? I wonder.
I’ll end this in talking about transit. Sir, what planet are you on? The LTC’s current service to the area is deplorable at best, running only during the morning and evening rush hours. If you’re hoping the LTC will get teenagers to and from PenEquity’s development, you’re either banking on their parents driving them to/from jobs there, or the LTC expanding its service out to (at least) 11pm to account for late cinema showings. Good. Luck. The LTC barely has the funding to continue operating its existing routes, and is woefully underfunded by the City compared to many other transit systems. The LTC does very well given how it’s funded now. So where does this extra funding come from? It won’t instantly come from ridership, which already bears quite a bit of the brunt. Indeed, if you think the LTC is going to start servicing the area, then be prepared to champion the cause for the City to expand funding, and increase everyone’s taxes and/or usage fees. Somehow I doubt you’ll be jumping on that bandwagon.
In all reality, very few of us are calling for the outright rejection of PenEquity’s proposal. What concerns me is the lack of foresight for the existing natural properties the land possesses, and the effect removing the trees and body of water will have on that very property, and properties surrounding it. Costco has also brought up issues with the traffic study conducted by BA Group (on behalf of PenEquity). But hey, no big deal, right? It’s not like ignoring environmental issues as ever caused us (“us” as in “humanity”) trouble before. Oh, wait…
I left out some of your points because I don’t have hard numbers to counter them. We don’t need the next Mayo Clinic or Microsoft to locate here. It sounds like you’re also missing the boat on the fact that small businesses account for more job growth in this country, as in the United States, than medium or large enterprises do. Well done, sir. Well done, indeed.