10 February 2010

Kiss it all good bye

Anyone hear any comments by the current St. John’s city councillors at how proud they were of the way the city looked in CBC’s Republic of Doyle?

Well, here’s what some of them told reporters, as presented in the Telegram:

“Republic of Doyle," a TV series that aired on CBC last week, received rave reviews from St. John's city councillors Monday.

"I didn't realize what a city I lived in, how beautiful it was," Coun. Gerry Colbert said. "When I look back on when I was a young fellow watching Magnum P. I., I used to say, 'God, I'd love to visit Hawaii, look at the shots of Hawaii, ' but I mean these shots, forget about the acting for a while, the shots that were taken were absolutely incredible."

Colbert said the show has gained popularity on the Internet and can be found on YouTube.

"We couldn't buy, in a million years, what that show gave us in one night," he said.

Mayor Dennis O'Keefe agreed that the city wouldn't be able to buy that kind of profile.

Coun. Debbie Hanlon and Coun. Sheilagh O'Leary also praised the show.

"It was fabulous, St. John's certainly looked gorgeous in it," Hanlon said.

"I was delighted," O'Leary said. "It was just fantastic."

Bet your last dollar that every single one of those councillors – except for Sheilagh O’Leary – is already sold on the idea of demolishing the downtown portion of St. John’s that provides much of the backdrop for the show.

You see every single city councillor – save O’Leary and maybe two others – is already on board with a plan by Fortis Properties to smash the existing municipal development plan and stick a 15 story high-rise on prime real estate on the waterfront.

It’s hard to imagine otherwise when you hear the mayor say absolutely asinine things like his line to local businessmen and women at a Rotary club that without development like Fortis is proposing, the city will have to rely on taxes to get its money.  

And if you listen to other councillors, it’s hard to imagine any of them standing in the way either.  There’ll be lots more talk about listening to the other side and about the need for development and progress.

That’s all just code for “I’ve already decided to vote for Fortis”. 

The crew at City Hall and their backers know how to talk out the clock.  They would like nothing better than an endless series of meetings and all sorts of hot air.  At the end, they’ll just vote the way they know right now that they will vote:  with Stan Marshall and his crowd.

Just remember what they did to people over the stadium, right down to the appeals farce.

Once the Fortis gig is done, then someone will file a proposal for the empty lot across Prescott Street from the current Fortis property.  This time they won’t try and conform to the old by-law like they sort-of did last time.  This time they’ll shoot for the stars.

And they’ll get that too.

Not long after there’ll be other plans. Other old buildings will be torn down because they are…well…old.

In place of these icky old things will rise the sort of architecture you see not in New York or Paris but in the true centres of modern civilization and culture.

Places like Mississauga or maybe Burlington.

Now this is not a lost cause by any stretch.  St. John’s city councillors are notoriously a pretty weak-kneed bunch. That’s why a few guys with imaginations as limited as their pockets are deep can win them over so easily.

But it’s going to take way more than a conversation or two in order to stop this proposal in its tracks.

Public meetings and letter writing won’t work much on them either. 

If people really don’t want to see the downtown turned into a carbon copy of a million other eyesores on the planet then they have to make it clear to each councillor that there is a huge political and maybe even a social or business price to be paid for what they are going to do. 

You see that’s the sort of stuff that is helping persuade them to vote with Fortis.  They are siding with their peeps.

So if you want them to shift positions, then sticking with their pals has to become painful.

Opponents of the plan need to consider some frank talk, some plain language.

Otherwise, kiss the whole of the downtown good bye and say hello to a cheap imitation of Scarborough.



Robert said...

For once, I totally agree with you.

This constant comparison to Halifax drives me nuts. As if the oil companies are going to pack up and leave if we don't have enough ugly buildings downtown; or for that matter, Sobeys et al are going to move their HQ here if we do build them.

St. John's has despite everything somehow managed to hold onto a livable downtown, the envy of urban planners across the country.

And this lot of useless maroons are quite capable of tossing it away. Have Tilley and crowd every actually traveled anywhere? If they had ever visited their beloved Halifax, they would know that tourists flock to the historic properties and Spring Garden road, while Barrington Street and Salter Street are wastelands after 5:00. Why we would emulate that example makes no sense to me.

David123 said...

I swear you lifted the Scarborough tag from my Saturday Telegram comment! (If not...my apologies, but that is freaky.)

I see this in rural Newfoundlnad too often...people who have absorbed too much TV and have never travelled upalong for any length of time seem to think that white vinyl-sided bungalows is a real sign of prosperity and taste. Completely baffling and maddening.

Of course, a whole added level of irony is that we are in the midst of a tourism renaissance, a whole new appreciation and appeal by mainlanders to come and marvel at our wonderfully unique, 'functionally rustic' outport architecture.

But, alas, there's no novelty or love of this stuff locally...tear that old crap down! New Scarborough awaits.

Until now, I thought that the more formally educated, better travelled citizens of St. John's would be the last line of defense against the ruthless developer.... surely THEY are enlightened. Apparently not.

Ed Hollett said...

Great minds or fools. Take your pick.

The more I thought about it, the more I realised that what this looks like is essentially nothing better than a dolled up version of any Toronto suburb.

Scarborough is the cheesiest one I could think of (no offense Scarboroughites) and so I left that for the punch at the end.

J said...

I support the Fortis plan but all the councillors I saw interviewed on the subject, I think there were 5, all disagreed with the proposal. As well the vacant lot across from the Fortis building has already been approved for a hotel.

As for the comparison to Halifax it should be made, they're the economic hub of Atlantic Canada and companies set-up there instead of St. John's because among other things they offer office space which St. John's doesn't have. As well people think that the oil companies won't go there but they will if it means less expenses. Exxon Mobil already plays a role in natural gas in the Nova Scotia as well as other oil companies. Nova Scotia is also exploring for oil and if they strike oil it will be even more reason for them to set-up in Halifax. I read about a mineral exploration company a few months ago that only explore in NL but their office is located in Halifax.

This also isn't just about oil companies but all companies that wish to have regional offices in Atlantic Canada, St. John's cannot compete with Halifax.

Ed Hollett said...

Which five indicated their opposition?

Paul said...

The changes in ol' St. John's are evident on Gower Street. Does anyone remember the shops that were the first skyline of so many historic pics from that now passed era?

The blast that leveled Halifax in 1917 will look small compared to what developers can do to destroy the historic downtown St. John's basin.


WJM said...

But, alas, there's no novelty or love of this stuff locally...tear that old crap down! New Scarborough awaits.

Nothing Could Be Further From The Truth™

New Scarborough is already here. It's called Pretty Well Every Part of St. John's Inland From the Brow, Especially You, Mount Pearl.

WJM said...

How on earth does Dublin manage with its anti-height fetish?

Aren't We Ever So Irish?

J said...

CBC had interviews with some councillors I cannot remember exactly who they did have on but obviously Shannie and Sheilagh didn't support the plan. Danny Breen I believe said he couldn't support it as is and Sandy Hickman pretty much echoed that as well. I believe as well that Frank Galgay and Debbie Hanlon also opposed the plan.

David123 said...

J, with all due respect, the use of the phrase "among other things" when contrasting Halifax and St. John's is evasive. There is one issue hidden in there that is pretty much the crux of that discussion, and it's not the comparative availability of office space or whose downtown is more historically eclectic.

There's a very real geographic reality to locating anywhere in Nfld.. If a company wouldn't benefit significantly from being here instead of Halifax or Toronto or Omaha, there is no decision to make.

Businesses that would and do benefit are ones whose core customers and/or business inputs are located here... no surprise, the oil sector & oil service companies fit that description.

But whenever it is when the curtain comes down on oil activity (it won't be tomorrow but it will come, sure as the sun will rise), the St. John's that you are left with is one you have to live with.

St. John's City Council and the real estate mob need to have a lot fewer Halifax-envy daydreams, and a lot more interest in paying some creative respect to historic St. John's.

Ed Hollett said...

Thanks, J. I may have seent the same interview.

But for me here's the thing.

Having just gone through a racket over the property on the vacant lot at the foot of Prescott every single councillor is intimately familiar with the zonings and other rules in that neighbourhood.

As such, the only answer it needs to get is a "no". It's pretty simple: the restriction is 15 metres so unless each story of this thing is three friggin feet high, it can't be 15 stories.

But that isn;t what anyone has said.

Hickman said he couldn't accept it as is...but with some changes he could accept a compromise which would be twice the current height restriction.

Welkl that isn't a compromise. That's a capitulation. Once you crack the 15 metre restriction, it doesn't matter if you let them build eight, 15 or 200.

So put Sandy in the camp who will vote for this.

I am thinking Danny will wind up voting for letting Fortis build otuside the existing guidelines as will everyone else except for Duff, O'Leary and maybe Galgay.

O'Keefe's speech to Rotary was a blatant admission he will vote for anything put in front of him.

As for the rest, I can lump them all in because they simple have taken any position but the obvious one given that the proposal fits the existing city plan as plainly as if they were proposing to put up a strip joint in Belvedere Cemetary without moving the bodies.

Frankly I am more than a bit concerned about several references to a series of meetings with that supposedly took place with representatives of Fortis and individual councillors and with city staff.

That needs to be confirmed or disproved immediately so that this matter can be dealt with as free of the petty games and shenanigans that could easily take over this whole process. We allre emeber the crap with stadium.

So here's my suggestions:

1. If those meetings have taken place, the nature of the meetings, what was discussed and any commitments made should be documented and on the public record.

Every single meeting.

Who, what, where, when, and why.

No exceptions.

Written reports, scanned, pdfed and posted to the City website.

2. Ditto the financial statements of each councillor from the last campaign, documenting each contribution. Scanned, pdfed and online by friday at the latest.

3. In light of this bizarro stuff about changed minutes - and the potential for petty bureaucratic games here - let's get all those coucments online right away without having to force anyone to submit an access request.

4. And as I have said, someone needs to get every single councilor on record before this goes to a vote as to where they stand on the proposal right now.

Jingles said...

Perhaps an email to Prince Charles might help your predicament. An address by the Prince to the city fathers and mothers on the value of older buildings might be in order....maybe?

Halifax is easier to get to New York, Toronto and Detroit than being stuck in St. John's on the Avalon Penn. I personally have known Tim Mellon owner of ExxonMobile...he won't be putting an office in St. John's and that is a given.

Ed Hollett said...

Thanks for the comment Jingles but perhaps you made a mistake (besides the one or ones in your comment.

Back in December you said you wouldn't comment here anymore.

Now I wouldn't want you to wind up break your solemn commitment a mere five or six weeks later.

David123 said...

Jingles, that's a very interesting claim...you know Tim Mellon, the owner of ExxonMobile?

Well, you can't know him very well.

First of all, its ExxonMobil, and second its a publicly traded company, not privately owned.

But beyond that, who's Tim Mellon?

Wm. Murphy said...

Did you happen to hear Nora Duke on CBC this afternoon? She was quite the student as she read from her talking points. Her comm handlers would have been very proud


Ed Hollett said...

Always remember two things:

1. This project is brought to you by the same people who brought you the Belize dam. They've got experience doing really controversial projects in much more hostile environments.


2. They've already done all the work they need to do in order to ensure they will win. Duke doesn't need to do anything else but mouth meaningless words.

Wm. Murphy said...

If you are equating winning to the approval of a 15 storey building...then you are wrong. If you equate winning in this instance to a building higher than 6 and lower than 15...then there may be truth to that.

Ed Hollett said...

Since a majority of councillors are guaranteed to vote for more than 15 metres, that is, the current policy, then the whole thing is done.

It doesn't matter what height of a building is finally built.

Once councillors commit - as Sandy Hickan already has - to support twice the height of the current guidelines, then Fortis wins. Mayor Doc has even taken to spinning out tales of minutes and other bureuacratic silliness to help undermine the main political opponent of the plan.

If Fortis doesn't get 15, then I would put that down to nothing more than a gift on their part. At this point, I would say they could write their own ticket. If they wanted 30 they could get it and the ground could physicially support it.

Wm. Murphy said...

If they wanted 30 they could get it and the ground could physicially support it.

What? The ground could physically support it...how do you know this bit of civil engineering?

Ed Hollett said...

If they wanted 30 and the ground could physically support it right on the waterfront, they could get it.

As long as the ground could handle it, they could outdo Dubai and the CN Tower.

And if that's a bit too obscure for you: I would imagine there are no problems with finding rock underneath so therefore FORTIS can build it all the way to the moon without any problems coming from Tammany at Gower.