Since I first wrote on the topic of the future of the Tannery district, it has been added to the agenda of City Council meeting on Monday, May 17 that starts at 7 p.m. at City Hall. It appears closer to the beginning of the agenda. I (and others) will be appearing before Council so if you share my concerns and vision, please come. A strong show of support can make a huge difference. I continue to encourage you to write letters to the editor of the Waterloo Region Record and to join and be politely vocal on the Tannery’s official Facebook page.
The Waterloo Region Record on May 14 had a very interesting article about the future of the Tannery. Thanks to the strong interest (500+ views in less than four days) in my earlier post on this topic, I wanted to provide an update from my perspective.
The demand for parking is immediate
Great news! The project is 75% leased and 120,000 square feet will be occupied within two months. At the same time, there is a temporary shortage of parking spaces downtown due to the construction of a new parking garage on a former surface lot. Let’s be creative and find a temporary solution to this problem. Tearing down heritage buildings is a rather permanent solution.
Some possible temporary options are:
The City is also rightly concerned about losing parking on Centre Block as it gets redeveloped. But I am sure that there is more than enough time before that project breaks ground to be proactive and plan for that need.
Cadan plans to put up a new building across Joseph
The most interesting nugget in the article for me was that Cadan plans to put up a mixed use building to replace the ancillary Tannery buildings. Presumably this plan also includes parking. While I expect that the building would be an asset to the downtown if it ever replaces the temporary parking lot, losing the heritage buildings is not a price I’m willing to pay.
I love the energy and atmosphere of Toronto’s Distillery District. It has a range of uses that include a brewery, offices, a theatre and restaurants. It is lively all day every day. What really brings the Distillery to life are the wide open pedestrian-friendly spaces between the numerous buildings that inspire people to gather and explore.
We have a chance to recreate that successful formula in Kitchener but only if the smaller buildings are included in the redevelopment. Creating a district requires more than a single massive building surrounded by streets. By keeping these heritage buildings, we can create a district that is outside and pedestrian friendly.
While I can’t guarantee how lucrative it might be, I am confident that making this choice will create a crown jewel for downtown Kitchener that will attract tourism and investment while enhancing the developer’s reputation.
It’s a quality of life issue
Attracting talent—especially the creative class—is a top priority for Waterloo Region’s community and business leaders. What is more likely to attract the interest of the high tech workers at the Tannery such as those working for Desire2Learn or the Communitech Hub (a digital media & mobile accelerator) which is a node of the Canadian Digital Media Network? What is more likely to attract and retain talent for the Waterloo Region as a whole? Is it a Tannery District based on the Distillery District model or a surface parking lot that is to be replaced by another everyday mixed use building that can be found everywhere? I believe the answer is obvious.
I hope the community and business leaders see that the decision being made in downtown Kitchener affects their efforts to sell our community to the talent it needs. I hope that the tenants of the Tannery and their staff make their preference known.
Having world class technology companies, universities and research institutes are not enough of a draw for Waterloo Region to realize a prosperous future, we must give people enough of a cosmopolitan experience without the big city hassles that they want to live and work here. For me it’s a question of what quality of life we desire and offer.
Let’s start by making the Tannery a true district.