Duffy’s

Warden promotes collaboration at recent luncheon

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The tenth annual Warden’s Luncheon was held recently with collaboration being a major focus.

Warden Tom Bain addressed the crowd at the Ciociaro Club with the event being presented by the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Bain, also the mayor of Lakeshore, noted that he was moved after hearing a presentation at the Rural Ontario Municipal Association Conference.

“The presenter was Doug Griffiths, a former elected official at the municipal and provincial levels in Alberta, who now specializes in providing strategic community development advice to governments, not-for-profit organizations and even private sector companies. The name of his presentation was ‘Thirteen Ways to Kill Your Community.’”

Bain said that Griffiths “provided inspiration” on how communities can work both independently and together to build stronger, more resilient communities.

“We cannot, or should not, depend solely upon senior levels of government to make our community successful,” said Bain. “Governments will change, priorities will change, philosophies will change and programs and funding will change. What remains constant? What we have to offer locally remains constant — our people, our assets and our resources.”

The warden said that the people of Essex County continually show the ability to deliver “world class solutions” to opportunities or adversity that the region has faced.

“It remains our collective responsibility, working collaboratively, and even on occasion in competition with each other, to make Essex County a pre-eminent destination to live, learn, work, play, invest and visit,” said Bain. “Ideas must continue to be exchanged and nurtured for norms to be poked at and success achieved.”

Essex County will spend $40 million this year to expand and/or maintain the county’s road network, Bain stated. The county is also contributing towards the proposed new mega-hospital project and is working on the SWIFT project, the latter being one to bring fibreoptic Internet service to the region. The county is also committed to helping the most vulnerable in each of the seven communities, providing resources to ensure Essex-Windsor EMS can meet their needs, and supporting physician recruitment.

Bain also highlighted “strategic investments” that either have or will be made to “improve the lives of residents.” He picked out at least one for every county municipality with the warden mentioning Amherstburg’s purchase of both the Duffy’s and Belle Vue properties. Bain said the “key strategic acquisitions of the Belle Vue House and the former Duffy’s Tavern will allow Amherstburg to continue to showcase and commemorate its rich history and sense of place.”

“The role of government is to develop the foundations for communities to build upon. However, we need to be keenly aware that constructing these foundations is not accomplished in a sprint,” the warden continued. “Some will say it is a marathon. I tend to liken it to a relay race in which the baton is constantly passed along.”

Teamwork is “essential” to the prosperity of every community, Bain stated.

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“This may sound silly, but to preserve the status quo, that is keeping what we cherish as a community, we must be prepared to allow and embrace change,” said Bain. “Without change, our status quo is at risk. We must be truthful to ourselves by ‘connecting the dots,’ by trying to understand and appreciate how decisions and actions of today will affect the aspirations of tomorrow.”

Retaining youth is important, he believed, but said today’s young people are convinced by deeds, and not words.

“If our community advertises it is prepared to train, encourage, mentor and connect, we best be

prepared to deliver. Actions will speak far louder than words,” said Bain. “As change permeates our community, one of the most important changes we can collectively make is one of attitude. New ideas, new approaches and new paradigms are likely to make us uncomfortable. We will need to welcome and support the new found creativity and innovation our youth are sure to bring.”

Furthering his theme of collaboration, Bain said that “borders shouldn’t be used to keep us apart” and that “we live in a regional economy with many sub-components.” He noted Tourism Windsor-Essex Pelee Island (TWEPI) is working to highlight the area and its attractions and the the Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA) also has several projects on the go for 2017, including the official opening of the Cypher Systems Greenway that connects Essex and Amherstburg.

Bain did see “storm clouds” on the horizon, due to positions taken by U.S. President Donald Trump that include a border tax on imports into the U.S., an impending renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), an “America First” policy, particularly with respect to the auto industry and “a general thickening of the Canada/U.S. border, slowing the flow of goods and creating confusion for local residents working in the U.S.”

“Changes to our trading relationship with the U.S. are no doubt coming, with the nature, extent and timing yet to be determined,” said Bain. “Both the Canadian and Ontario governments continue to work closely with their U.S. counterparts to demonstrate the substantial mutual benefits and value that accrue from Canada/U.S. trade. The impact upon our local economy remains to be seen.”

Windsor-Essex has “sturdy foundations” and said the area’s business community is innovative, adaptive and creative.

“If I know anything about Essex County and its residents, it is that what at first may appear to be a problem will quickly be converted into a new opportunity,” said Bain. “Through teamwork, embracing our youth, and welcoming fresh, new ideas, I have every confidence that Essex County determination, attitude and passion will turn challenges into silver linings, and not allow silver linings to become problems. The biggest misstep we can make is to allow possibility and potential to slip through our grasp.”

 

 

CAO outlines town’s economic development goals at ACOC awards

 

By Jonathan Martin

Amherstburg’s CAO has outlined the town’s conceptual plan for the site of the former Duffy’s Tavern and Motor Inn and also talked about the Belle Vue property.

Addressing a dining room full of local business owners at Friday’s 2017 business excellence awards, CAO John Miceli also went over how council plans to improve the town’s infrastructure.

The Town of Amherstburg closed on the acquisition of Duffy’s Feb. 14. According to Miceli, the town issued a tender for the site’s demolition March 28. He said the town hopes to have the land cleared of buildings by mid or late June.

This spring, Miceli said town hall plans to hold public consultation meetings to “confirm the community’s wishes as it relates to the Duffy’s site.”

Miceli said the estimated budget for the development of the project is $6 million.

“This, friends, is exciting,” he said. “It will be the premiere community gathering place in the region.”

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Belle Vue is considered a “crown jewel” of Amherstburg, says CAO John Miceli

As it stands, the plan includes a central plaza to accommodate events, a wharf to dock ships, fishing spots, a boat ramp, a service building with washrooms and concessions, an event area with supporting infrastructure and a waterfront amphitheatre.

Miceli added, “I believe that, should we develop the conceptual plan as tabled, council and this community will have a waterfront unmatched to anyone in this region and our waterfront will serve as an economic engine for our community.”

Belle Vue will also be an “economic engine,” he said. The restoration of the 200-year-old town-owned mansion on Dalhousie St. will cost in the neighbourhood of $3 million with it being about $9 million to develop the entire property as proposed by the municipality.

“Belle Vue, in my opinion, is a crown jewel of this community,” the chief administrative officer told the crowd of nearly 200 people at Pointe West Golf Club.

Miceli pointed out the Belle Vue Conservancy is in the process of fundraising with a goal of $1 million.

He said that town hall is in talks with consultants about the creation of a community improvement plan (CIP) and the establishment of urban design dialogues.

A CIP is a municipal planning and development tool put out by the provincial government. Ultimately, its implementation would allow the town to offer tax incentives to assist in the development of properties within the area designated by the plan.

“Our goal will be to provide initiatives that will assist in creating a climate that will result in a new hotel,” said Miceli. “A new hotel in the town of Amherstburg. That is what your community wants; that is what your council wants to deliver.”

Miceli also spoke about phase 8b of Kingsbridge, referring to a zoning by-law that was passed March 20 allowing 55 single-family dwellings to be developed east of Knobb Hill Dr. and north of McLellan Ave.

He said Meadow View Estates, set to be built on the corner of Simcoe St. and Meloche Rd., will be developed in phases and result in an additional 142 residential units.

“The town has taken steps to improve our relationships with developers,” Miceli said. “We are now working together to make Amherstburg a community of choice for development. As you know, without development we can have no growth and without growth we cannot sustain our current service levels.”

PowerPoint Presentation

The town’s concept plan for the Duffy’s property was discussed by Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) John  Miceli as part of the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce’s Business Excellence Awards. The banquet took place Friday night at Pointe West Golf Club.

The town has capacity at the new wastewater plant for approximately 50,000 people, he said.

Miceli reminded listeners that the town is in the process of collecting data related to internet services through a survey that can be accessed on the town’s website. The information will be used “to apply for grants and hopefully build a business plan for council to consider” regarding the improvement of rural internet infrastructure.

As he stepped down from the podium, he challenged the local business community, asking them what they thought they could do to “to seize their opportunity to create economic development in this community.”

Duffy’s sale to close Feb. 14

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The town of Amherstburg will officially become the owners of the Duffy’s Tavern & Motor Inn property on Valentine’s Day.

The deal, first announced last September, will close Feb. 14 and as part of the environmental conditions, an amended price was agreed to. CAO John Miceli did not disclose what the new purchase price will be but said the town will be paying less than the original $1.675 million price.

Miceli said the new purchase price and the fact the town has to be dealing with the environmental matters will all fall within the original $1.675 million figure. He added that the town will not be out any extra money.

“I haven’t put the taxpayers at risk at all,” said Miceli.

As part of the condition of the sale, Miceli said there was a Phase I and a Phase II environment assessment placed on the property. Based on his prior experience dealing with waterfront lands in Windsor, Miceli said he wasn’t surprised when issues arose at the Duffy’s site.

The town has agreed to purchase Duffy’s Tavern & Motor Inn for $1.675 million.

The town has agreed to purchase Duffy’s Tavern & Motor Inn for $1.675 million.

“I was expecting to come across something,” he said, adding that is why the environmental conditions were placed on the property.

Miceli believed that many waterfront properties could have environmental issues, pointing out the fact that coal was formerly stored on the waterfront.

“You have to deal with it differently now than in the old days,” said Miceli.

Once the town officially becomes the owner of the property, the plan is to tear both the restaurant and motel down. Miceli said his preference is to have it gone sooner rather than later and believes town council feels the same way.

“I think council is excited to get it down,” he said. “I think we’ll move on that when we close on the property.”

Miceli hopes the restaurant and hotel will be gone by the time any Canada 150 celebrations come to Amherstburg.

The town has already unveiled some proposals for the Dalhousie St. property, including an amphitheatre, a public marina, a service buildings with washrooms and concessions, plazas and room for tents and food trucks. The CAO stated there will be opportunities for the public to have their say on what they would like to see at the site.

“We definitely will be having public consultation this year once we get ownership of the property,” said Miceli.

Mayor optimistic for 2017

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The new year has just started but Mayor Aldo DiCarlo is optimistic for 2017.

DiCarlo states that it might be his nature to be optimistic, but he is hopeful the town can maintain momentum that occurred in 2016.

“I don’t know if we can maintain the pace we had in 2016, but fingers crossed, we’ll keep moving along,” the mayor stated. “Last year was pretty big with things going on.”

Believing it could be “more of the same” in 2017, he noted there is still work that has to be done in relation to the town’s purchases of Belle Vue and Duffy’s. The Belle Vue Conservancy is working with the town to help fundraise to restore the 200-year-old Dalhousie St. mansion and DiCarlo looks for that project to continue.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo

The town has yet to assume ownership of the Duffy’s property as the results of an environmental assessment on the property has not been reported as of yet. DiCarlo says that is expected soon.

“That was really the only thing holding it up,” he said, praising administration for ensuring that matter was looked after before the municipality officially assumes ownership.

The Meloche Road project is also on the horizon for 2017 but perhaps the biggest project for 2017 is the decommissioning of the Edgewater lagoons, something the mayor said could be completed by the end of this year. Completion of that project is expected to help spur new home building in the Golfview and Kingsbridge subdivisions.

“That’s a big one for the town,” DiCarlo stated. “That opens up a whole area for development.”

DiCarlo said people are willing to move into Amherstburg.

“Our real estate is still on fire,” he said. “Our only issue is having enough homes to sell.”

DiCarlo hopes the Meadow View Estates subdivision at the corner of Simcoe St. and Meloche Road is progressing well as that would create more building lots for the town.

Announcing a hotel in 2017 is something DiCarlo said he would love to do but admitted it may be a bit ambitious to expect such an announcement this year.

“A lot of that hinges on what happens with Duffy’s,” he said. “Once it’s gone, I think that will open up the market.”

Budget deliberations are underway and are expected to be finalized after this issue of the River Town Times goes to press. Administration recommended a 1.99 per cent increase prior to the start of deliberations. (UPDATE: Council concluded its deliberations Tuesday night with the rate now being at 1.89 per cent.)

DiCarlo said the finances are rebounding and reserves are being built and every dollar being asked for in the budget is justified. The mayor called the proposed increase “a very fair increase.” He said it would be great not to have a tax increase, but costs increase so no increase is “not the way it is

“No one wants an increase,” he said. “I don’t.”

Amherstburg also faces a low to mid-level increase in MPAC assessments, which reduces the impact for local residents as opposed to residents in other local municipalities, DiCarlo added.

There is no news yet with regards to whether the Greater Essex County District School Board has finalized a location for a new public high school in Amherstburg, the mayor added. DiCarlo said he understands the wishes people have to have the school in the middle of town “but what is the middle of town?” He said what is the middle of town now may not be in 50 years as the town expands over the years.

Completion of the forcemain project and the decommissioning of the Edgewater Lagoons looks to be one of the town’s bigger projects of 2017, forecasts Mayor Aldo DiCarlo.

Completion of the forcemain project and the decommissioning of the Edgewater Lagoons looks to be one of the town’s bigger projects of 2017, forecasts Mayor Aldo DiCarlo.

“It’s all good news,” said DiCarlo. “I don’t think they could pick a bad spot at this point.”

Festivals and events are still expected to be an Amherstburg staple in 2017 with the mayor stating the thing to watch is what happens the second weekend in September. The Windsor-Essex Harvest Festival ran that weekend in 2016 but it remains to be seen whether the Shores of Erie International Wine Festival will reclaim that weekend or whether something else will happen.

“With the town not picking up (the Harvest Festival), I guess we’ll wait and see,” said DiCarlo.

DiCarlo said he is hopeful the town keeps moving in a positive direction.

“I think the big thing for us year-over-year is to maintain the pace we set and continuing that,” he said. “Amherstburg is really on a roll. It’s been a whole lot of good news after a whole lot of bad news.”

Belle Vue Cultural Foundation plots next steps to save historic building

 

By Ron Giofu

 

One week after town council voted not to proceed with the purchase of the Belle Vue property, a group of citizens trying to save the 200-year-old building has plotted its next steps.

The Belle Vue Cultural Foundation will continue with a social media campaign to drum up interest in the town acquiring the property and preserving it and also plans on sending a representative to town council to speak to the elected officials about their decision. Council members may also receive some calls and e-mails from the group, if they haven’t already.

While members acknowledged the plans for the Duffy’s property that the town acquired that same Sept. 12 meeting have support in the town, members weren’t ready to throw in the towel in their efforts to have the town step up and preserve Belle Vue.

Foundation president Paul Hertel obtained administrative reports that were previously discussed in-camera through a Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (MFIPPA) request. It was learned through the documentation that acquiring Belle Vue would have been $1.1 million in cash and a donation receipt of $200,000. The vendor would hold a vendor “take back mortgage” for zero per cent over five years with yearly payments of $200,000.

Town administration had a vision for a conference/wedding facility at the Belle Vue site, located at 525 Dalhousie St., complete with refurbished building, a formal garden area, a conservatory, several independent garden areas, a greenhouse, a small band shell and plaza area, accessible lighted pathways and infrastructure to support events.

Belle Vue FrontWEB

Belle Vue

Projected costs to acquire and redevelop the site would have approached $9.1 million though administration proposed the actual acquisition would have no additional debt.

Hertel also obtained a video with a “walk-through” of the redeveloped building and grounds with committee members being impressed with what they saw. The committee wants to share the video publicly.

“This is an incredible vision,” Lori Bezaire commented after viewing the video. “This could generate value for the town.”

Hertel didn’t disagree, adding he knew of no other group that had seen that video.

The foundation also heard from Phil Kasurak, the realtor who has the listing for the property. He confirmed the owners received three offers for the site.

“All were aware they were competing,” said Kasurak.

There was an offer higher than the town’s, but Kasurak said the town was the best ones to deal with after researching the other prospective buyer. He said the town was “forthright and straight-forward” to deal with.

The third offer was from a “credible individual,” he said but “it wasn’t financially right for the seller.”

The deal was struck with the town and Kasurak said that deal isn’t dead yet, despite the motion to proceed with the purchase failing.

“The seller was quite willing to give the town and is quite willing to give the town good terms to buy it,” said Kasurak. “As of today, the offer is still alive. It has not been released by the town.”

The town has until the end of the month to release the offer.

Kasurak suggested the idea of buying Belle Vue could be reconsidered by the town.

“The administration was very excited, wanting to get the entire block of property,” Kasurak told the foundation.

Kasurak added the money doesn’t have to be spent at once, believing money could be used to stabilize the building and proceeding in stages from there.

“The property owner has indicated they are willing to sit and wait and see if this sorts itself out,” he said.

Kasurak added there is a perception in the community that the building is in worse shape than it is. He said people think the building is rotting away and unsafe, but said it is actually solid though it needs guided tours for potential buyers due to no utilities.

The Belle Vue house features a number of  fireplaces, including the one pictured. (Special to the RTT)

The Belle Vue house features a number of
fireplaces, including the one pictured. (Special to the RTT)

The town could also choose to reconsider and purchase the building and a smaller piece of the property, he continued. He said his belief is that the rear portion is worth roughly $1 million and could be redeveloped separately.

Some committee members had difficulty believing the town could buy both Belle Vue and Duffy’s.

“Council has made a decision with stars in their eyes,” said Michael Prue. “If they buy (Duffy’s) and they seem intent on doing that, there is no money left to do what we want them to do.”

The information obtained by Hertel showed the town stating it would have $80,000 left in the general reserve and life cycle replacement reserve and the report from administration advised council be “diligent in future planning” to replace those funds and focus attention of disposing of additional town-owned property to replenish those funds.

“Everyone seems to be in favour of Duffy’s. There is no way this council and this mayor are going to fund both,” stated member Jennie Lajoie. “They are looking to get re-elected. There is no chance they do both.”

Debra Honor argued that buying Duffy’s wasn’t the most financially prudent move, reminding her fellow members that Belle Vue was available in five-year increments with a zero per cent mortgage.

CAO John Miceli attended later in the meeting after a previous meeting he was in had concluded. He said it was a council decision to not pursue Belle Vue but believed he followed his instructions well to negotiate a favorable deal on behalf of the municipality.

“I can only say I did the best I could do for the town with what I had,” he said.

Miceli said his vision was to have a board look after the Belle Vue site but be accountable to town council, similar to an arrangement Willistead Manor has with Windsor. He confirmed Monday night he had not yet signed the release on the property. He also expressed confidence the town could have gotten sponsorships for the gardens and government funding for the restoration of the building itself.

“I felt very strong with the costings,” he added.

Asked about whether there could be a hotel on the site, Miceli said he had no knowledge of anyone wanting to create a hotel there. He did note there will soon be an Official Plan review and part of that is a community improvement plan that, if approved by council, would be one that would create conditions for a hotel to be developed.

The Belle Vue Cultural Foundation is also searching for members. Debra Honor announced she could not attend future meetings due to health reasons with Hertel also announcing he was stepping down as president for family reasons.