conference centre

Ideas floated for what to do with the Belle Vue property

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The Town of Amherstburg held the first of two public consultation meetings regarding the Belle Vue property last week with several ideas floated around on what to do with it.

About 20 people attended last Tuesday night’s meeting at the Libro Centre, many of whom are members of the Belle Vue Conservancy. The conservancy is fundraising for the restoration of the property that the town purchased in 2016.

Robert Honor, a local historian and member of the Belle Vue Conservancy, outlined the history of the 200-year-old Dalhousie St. mansion from when it was built by the Reynolds family to its various private owners and its stints as a veterans’ home and as St. Nicholas Ukrainian Church.

Town treasurer Justin Rousseau said the conservancy has been busy with fundraisers since it was formed.

“There’s always a campaign going on,” he said.

An image of what a restored Belle Vue would look like, according to renderings by Architectura.

The money the Belle Vue Conservancy raises is then given to the Town of Amherstburg with Rousseau stating that cash donations as of last Tuesday’s meeting were at $210,000 with another $65,000 of committed contributions. There are also $18,000 in in-kind contributions for an overall total of $292,000.

“The fundraising efforts have been very good,” said Rousseau.

The fundraising has helped offset costs of the new roof that is currently being installed, he noted, adding the town is also working to find grant opportunities.

The meeting turned into a question-and-answer period with CAO John Miceli, with Miceli calling the roof “a great first step” in the restoration process.

“We’ve got really good momentum,” he said. “We don’t want to lose that.”

The CAO added “the conservancy has done a tremendous job raising money.”

Miceli called Belle Vue an important piece of the town’s tourism industry going forward.

“It is going to be one of the catalysts of the tourism industry. I strongly believe that,” he said.

A proposed look at what the Belle Vue property would look like.

A restored Belle Vue will not just benefit Amherstburg, Miceli continued, but will be a boost to the region as a whole.

“I view Belle Vue as a regional property,” he said. “It’s not just an Amherstburg property, it’s a regional property. It’s a property that belongs to the entire region.”

What the property is going to be used for is still open for debate, though Miceli said the main comments he has heard are to use the building as a conference centre.

“Ultimately, it’s going to be driven by the community,” stated Miceli.

The chief administrative officer envisioned Belle Vue as a “tremendous opportunity” and one that will surpass another property he was responsible for when he was the director of parks and recreation for the City of Windsor.

“In my opinion, it will blow Willistead (Manor) out of the water,” he boasted.

Michael Prue, treasurer of the Belle Vue Conservancy, spoke in favour of a conference centre concept. He said the home is in relatively close proximity to the town’s downtown core and believed a conference centre would be a draw for the community and bring economic development.

Other ideas included themed boardrooms on Belle Vue’s upper levels, having horse-drawn carriage rides at the site, a greenhouse so the town can grow its own plant materials and hold plant sales, a café with caterers on site to prepare food, a seniors’ home and some botanical gardens.

Miceli said he envisions transforming the garage into a kitchen facility.

The potential gardens that could go behind Belle Vue are depicted in this rendering.

“I just don’t think we should be doing that inside the home,” he said. “These are just my thoughts. You don’t have to agree with me.”

Anne Rota, manager of tourism and culture for the town, said her research shows that tall ships and botanical gardens are top attractions for visitors in North America.

Paul Hertel, whose work with the Belle Vue Conservancy has included research into its time as a veterans’ home, said he has no problem with the conference centre idea as long as the public interest is protected. He also said the proximity to Iler Creek could enhance eco-tourism in the area.

Hertel believed a refurbished Belle Vue would enhance the “southern gateway” to Amherstburg.

Historian Robert Honor speaks at a May 29 public meeting regarding potential uses for the Belle Vue property.

The town purchased the site for $1.1 million and a $200,000 donation receipt with the town paying $100,000 down and $200,000 per year over a five-year period on an interest-free mortgage. Cost estimates have ranged from $2-3 million to restore the building itself with restoration of the entire 8.6-acre property estimated at upwards of $9 million.

The second Belle Vue meeting is Tuesday, June 5 at 6 p.m., also at the Libro Centre