Former Windsor mayor urges Amherstburg to think big, plan for future

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce’s Business Excellence Awards included a visit from a former Windsor mayor who urged local people to think big and plan for the future.

Eddie Francis, now the executive vice president of operations and member experience with Windsor Family Credit Union (WFCU), was the guest speaker at Saturday night’s event held at Pointe West Golf Club and while he didn’t urge Amherstburg to lose its identity, Francis wanted residents and town officials alike to look at the bigger picture.

“Look at where you are at today and where do you want to go,” Francis told the crowd.

Francis questioned residents to whether they see Amherstburg as a town of 21,000 people, or as part of a bigger area within the county and the region. He noted there are 5.7 million people in the “metro” area, which includes Windsor-Essex County and southeastern Michigan.

“Can we view ourselves as a place within a larger context?” he asked, adding the Canada-U.S. Border is “just a geographical boundary.”

Opportunities are opening up for Amherstburg, Essex County and the area, Francis believed, stating the area is “strategically located” along the “NAFTA backbone.

“We’re part of a supply chain that feeds that,” said Francis. “We’re part of a production line.”

Windsor-Essex County features great weather, access to all professional sports teams, cultural diversity, a skilled workforce, low cost of living and affordable housing costs, Francis touted. If Amherstburg is happy being a town of 21,000, that’s fine, he said, but stressed there is the opportunity for more.

The town is currently undertaking a community based strategic plan with residents encouraged to fill it out on the town’s website or through paper copies available at town hall. Francis praised the town for undertaking such a project and said it was an extremely important one.

“The strategic plan is probably the most important document you as a community can generate,” said Francis. “It’s going to allow you to establish a vision. This is ‘where we are as a community and what we want to achieve’.”

Former Windsor mayor and current Windsor Family Credit Union vice president Eddie Francis speaks at the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce’s 11th annual Business Excellence Awards Saturday night at Pointe West Golf Club.

Former Windsor mayor and current Windsor Family Credit Union vice president Eddie Francis speaks at the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce’s 11th annual Business Excellence Awards Saturday night at Pointe West Golf Club.

The town has to be willing to take chances, take action and allocate resources to make things happen, he added. Francis believed that during his 11 years as Windsor’s mayor, he wasn’t the “lightning rod” that he was sometimes branded as.

“I wasn’t creating controversy,” said Francis. “I was taking risks.”

Building a city or a town is the “easiest thing to do,” he continued.

“It’s been done,” said Francis. “You just have to look at places that have done it.”

Amherstburg needs to do the small things right, do more with less, cut taxes and plan for the long term, he believed. Francis believes from his view as an “outsider,” that Mayor Aldo DiCarlo, town council and administration are re-earning the people’s trust and that Amherstburg is coming back. That said, he said continuous investments have to be made to keep moving the town ahead.

“You have to break away from your comfort zones otherwise it won’t happen,” said Francis.

Francis recommended Amherstburg develop a five to ten year budget and play to the town’s strengths such as festivals and events for its economic development. In addition to festivals, sports tourism and targeted retail opportunities should also be pursued. He also suggested converting the former General Chemical lands to mixed use residential, perhaps with the aid of a public/private partnership.

“An auto plant is not going to locate in the town of Amherstburg,” said Francis. “It’s not going to happen.”

Amherstburg has to bring people to town, he added, with the region as a whole needing to further tell its story and attract people here. There is also a need to improve public transit so people can access that in order to come to the area.

“I think Amherstburg is on the right track,” said Francis, but added more can be done to move forward.

DiCarlo said good things are happening in Amherstburg, with the mayor pointing out during his portion of the program that the town “is not in financial ruin.” He said things are moving in a positive direction in Amherstburg and touted the condominium projects that are en route for the community.

The emergence of Wolfhead Distillery was touted by DiCarlo as well, as was a proposed new commercial plaza that is planned for the Sandwich St. North and Brunner St. area. The latter project should be coming to the site plan stage later this year, said DiCarlo.

DiCarlo pointed out the transformation of the Blue Haven Motel into affordable housing units, the new restaurant and event space at Sprucewood Shores winery, the expanding business portfolio of realtor Dan Gemus, projects such as the Amherstburg-Essex Greenway, Texas Road and the Edgewater Lagoons, the development of a new Essex County maintenance yard on North Side Road near Howard Ave., and the various culverts and bridges the town is maintaining annually.

Residents were encouraged to participate in the strategic plan process as well. DiCarlo also praised realtor Norm Mickle for his “Amherstburg, You will love it here” initiative that he is trying to spread.

The mayor also outlined the town’s recent awards, which include the Municipality of the Year by Festivals and Events Ontario, the “Five Blooms” from Communities in Bloom, the People’s Choice award for the Historic Downtown, the fourth “Safest Community in Canada” designation, and the award for best looking police cars. He also highlighted the town’s festivals and events, including Mardi Gras, and hoped Mardi Gras will continue this year.

“All of these continue to bring business and tourism to the town,” he said.

DiCarlo also praised the residents and businesses in town.

“Each and every one of you make the town great,” he said.

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