A door opened last night that may lead to making the Tannery a true District. Thank you Mayor Zehr and City Council for creating an opportunity to find a win-win solution.
For most of the evening, I was pessimistic about the outcome. My sense was that City Council and staff had made up their minds and were determined to support Cadan. But then the unexpected happened and Mayor Zehr called for senior city staff to meet with Cadan to discuss our concerns and proposals. Councillor Gazzola then suggested that some citizens be involved too. This meeting is to occur as soon as possible with a report back to Council on June 7.
Here is the CTV Southwestern Ontario coverage of the meeting.
I credit the results to the large number of people who came out to demonstrate their concern and the many thoughtful presentations that were made to Council. It was evident that too many people had serious concerns for City Council to ignore and that the people of Kitchener needed their voices to be a part of this process. I believe this was the best possible outcome that we could expect last night.
But it was not a victory. The buildings are not safe. The future of the Tannery as a true District continues to be at risk.
We must continue to make our voices strongly and clearly heard. We must continue to spread the word and grow our numbers. Our ability to preserve our past to create that future for downtown Kitchener that we want and deserve depends upon it. Join the Tannery’s official Facebook page so that Cadan hears directly from us and join the Facebook group to Save the Lang Buildings to show with diversity of people from all walks of life that share our concerns. And tomorrow (May 19), join the Tannery District Day in social media. On that day if you are on Facebook, post this as your status: ‘Cadan and City of Kitchener, let’s turn the Tannery into a true district for people. Please show your support by pasting this into your status for today.” Twitter users can replace the ending with: Please RT.
Another positive development was news of a parking agreement between the City and Cadan that will see 200 spaces reserved for the Tannery in the new Charles and Benton garage until the Bramm Works Yard can begin to be used as a surface parking lot eventually the full works yard will be used for this purpose for a ten year period. The City and Cadan are also planning to erect a parking structure on a city owned lot north of Francis and Charles. These developments all demonstrate the innovative thinking and leadership that I have been seeking.
Unfortunately, the staff presentation to Council indicates that these moves do not go far enough and the plan continues to be to tear down the smaller buildings to create a temporary parking lot that can be replaced by a mixed use building and/or parking structure.
For me that means continuing to emphasize the need for outdoor spaces that attract people and give them reasons to stay. The current buildings offer that potential. What is being proposed does nothing to create the street life that brings a downtown alive. We must continue to push for nothing less.
Let me conclude with how I began last night.
Sunday afternoon was beautiful. Without being there, I can guarantee that the Distillery District in Toronto was packed with people. I understand that Victoria Park was too. But downtown Kitchener? Not a chance. Not yesterday and not after demolishing the four smaller buildings that comprise the former Lang Tannery.
On the other hand, imagine people making the short walk from Victoria Park to the Tannery District and then spilling onto King Street. That’s a picture that could be our reality on a beautiful Sunday in May a couple years from now but only if we act today to preserve our past to create that future.
I was asked if I thought that Kitchener-Waterloo could support the vision I presented. On the way home, I wished that I had stated that we are not a small market any longer. Rather, Waterloo Region is now 500,000 strong. I also wished I had mentioned this anecdote:
On Friday, my family went to eat at a restaurant on King near Queen. After dinner, we wanted to go for a walk. King Street was dead several places that we hoped to be open were closed. So we headed to Victoria Park that was bustling with life because it is a true people place. If a Tannery District existed, I am confident that it too would have been buzzing with life on both Friday night and Sunday.
So I conclude that keeping the Tannery intact can be a catalyst in the revitalization of downtown Kitchener. Now we must finish our work and convince Cadan and the city.