Opinion Editorial

Investing in Orillia's future

By Dave Dawson, Orillia Packet & Times

Many taxpayers were not thrilled earlier this week when city council opted to green-light a $17-million project to rebuild the antiquated infrastructure at the waterfront that will, it is hoped, pave the way for the redevelopment of that vital stretch of Lake Couchiching that will, in turn, spark a renaissance that will work its way into the downtown core.

After months of work behind the scenes, this plan was put forward by the Waterfront Development Working Group chaired by Tim Lauer. "Front Street should be our signature street... it's important that if we have big plans for that area that street looks good, is functional and pedestrian-friendly," Lauer said in making the case for the ambitious initiative.

The costly project includes the relocation of the city's trunk sewer line, currently buried under the old rail lines, to beneath Front Street, which will get a complete makeover. A new sewage pumping station will also be built.

These moves will update the Victorian-era equipment and expand the capacity - something that needed to be done. In addition, the relocation of underground infrastructure will free up 1.4 acres of land adjacent to 70 Front St. N. - the Front Street Mall purchased by the city last year - valued at $1.4 million. That could accommodate an additional 4,000 square metres of development, worth as much as $12 million in construction value and expand the tax base.

The $17 million is money that has already been budgeted as part of city's five-year major capital budget, but was set aside for other projects - projects that will now be delayed. As Mayor Steve Clarke pointed out, "(there) is no further burden to the taxpayers because we've re-prioritized those other projects."

More importantly, it's a decision that reflects a vision for a dynamic waterfront that could literally and figuratively change the local landscape. Yes, it's expensive in the short term, but this is all work that would need to be completed in the very near future anyway. Does it not make more sense to prioritize that work now to pave the way for both the potential realignment of Centennial Drive and the re-development of the Front Street Mall and the areas around that stretch of under-utilized real estate?

Ian Bromley, the city's manager of economic development, believes this is a generational opportunity. He is right. If we want to maximize our waterfront and open up opportunities for development that could serve as a foundation for future downtown regeneration, that foundation has to be rock-solid.

Bromley has also said that as it gets more and more difficult to find developable land in the GTA, many are looking north. The time has never been better to make sure we are in a position to take advantage of that. It's not cheap, but there are times when you have to spend money to make money and take a long-term view.

If this work, over time, leads to a beautified Front Street, modern dependable infrastructure and intelligent development along our waterfront and helps to link boaters and tourists to our downtown, it will be an investment that will pay off for generations to come.

david.dawson@sunmedia.ca

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