THUNDER BAY – OPINION – Thunder Bay can no longer afford business as usual. If you are selling a home, you make sure it is in the best possible condition to impress potential buyers. In Thunder Bay, the downtown Fort William BIA, and the downtown Entertainment District along with many businesses are working toward getting their shops and the area looking good.
The state of streetlights in downtown Fort William are Thunder Bay’s “canary in the coal mine”.
The streetlights which started falling down last week are a solid indication that not all is well in the city.
The official opening of the new Provincial Court House has presented both the City of Thunder Bay and the local area with the opportunity to grow and prosper moving into the future. Local businesses stepped up. The BIA stepped up. The City did the usual.
As the Court House opened , provincial Ministers were on hand, there were a number of dignitaries present.
The new Court House has been promoted as a new economic engine for the downtown Fort William core. Already there is an impact on the downtown. Several new law offices are opening. Several building owners are upgrading their buildings.
Thunder Bay had an opportunity to step up and make the downtown area of the city shine a little. Instead, it was business as usual.
Business as Usual
Rather than invest some time in an early spring clean-up, it was messy as usual.
The degree of neglect was obvious the following week as a streetlight fell down at the corner of Brodie Street and Victoria Avenue East. A mere block from the new Provincial Court House.
For the past several years, the issue of leaving huge snowbanks on our downtown streets have been raised with the City. Perhaps leaving the streetlights buried in several feet of snow filled with salt and road clearing chemicals is a factor in the damage and rust that led to the streetlight falling down. The potential liability had that streetlight fallen on a person could have been huge.
Sure there are reasons. There are always reasons. Recent snowfalls, the hard long winter, the budget for snow clearing is long gone… but what was lost, and can’t be overcome was that vital opportunity to make a good first impression.
Instead of clearing sidewalks around the courthouse of ice, gravel and making the opening a real opportunity, it was more of the words instead of deeds. Mayor Hobbs has done numerous walk-abouts downtown. His comments in an interview with NetNewsLedger is that it is time for the people of Thunder Bay to step up.
That is true. Residents and business owners do need to take pride in their businesses and in our city.
So too does the City of Thunder Bay have a responsibility to step up.
You could say the City is between a rock and a hard place. If they cleared all the gravel and it snowed again, they might have to do it again. Considering that some areas of the city have seen repeated snow clearing, with temperatures soaring well above freezing, the benefits of a pre-courthouse opening clean up would have been small.
The damage to the street light led to a tour of downtown by City Officials.
That tour led to the removal of a number of street lights. A case of closing the barn door after the horse has left. In other words, business as usual.
The answer as to who was responsible for maintaining the infrastructure remains unanswered.
Senior City Managers often seem too comfortable with business as usual. Council and the Mayor seem comfortable with the status quo.
Of course now a week later, the lights have not been replaced. That leaves the downtown Fort William darker at night, less friendly and less inviting.
The downtown is the heart of a city, and in our city we need to be investing the time and effort needed to clean it up. We have to focus on the basics, and make our roads better, our sidewalks better and safer, and ensure that the little things are not being missed.
The opening of the Court House demonstrated, perhaps that City Administration is over-reaching on the scope of what they are trying to do. At Council on April 28th, the idea was raised that perhaps there needs to be a greater focus on balance between infrastructure spending and operations spending.
Residents are concerned about many things in our city, the condition of roads, the taxes, crime, just to name a few.
What is really needed, is for the City of Thunder Bay both Administration and Council to realize that concerns being raised by residents are not attacks on them personally, but a message from the people who are paying the shot.
From the opening of the Court House, it certainly appears that there was no planning for that opening. No efforts made to clean up the downtown, and no extra efforts to make the downtown a showcase.
One might have thought that Superior Points might have been contacted to do a sweep of the area and clear up needles. In fact it might, by now have become apparent that there are areas where needles are left on a regular basis and that a regular patrol should be done of those areas.
Downtown Fort William has a lot of opportunity
But often it appears that City Administration and Council are overly focused on the Event Centre, the Marina Park and missing the full opportunities to showcase our entire city.
The sewer by the walkway to Kam River Park has remained a good four inches too high to drain away water. The mess left in muddy water and ice is dangerous. The walkway is left unplowed all winter leaving the southside of the city disconnected to the waterfront. That would never happen at Marina Park, it is seen as a show case.
The lack of concentrated effort on the basics isn’t limited to the Fort William Business District, there are examples across the city that demonstrate a lack of paying needed attention to the basics.
Sidewalks and streets littered with a long winter’s leftover of gravel, feces, syringes, and broken glass send a signal that Thunder Bay doesn’t care. Well, at least that the focus isn’t on what it should be.
Some in the city see the opportunity for the new Multi-plex as the latest way to make Thunder Bay a destination. Just like the ‘charity’ casino was going to have bus loads of visitors arriving to fill our city.
The long run for the city is we have developed an economy increasingly based on government jobs. Education, healthcare, government, and other tax payer supported employment is the base for our economy.
Ontario is going into debt at $1billion a month. Even a single digit increase in interest rates would generate a massive ripple across our economy.
That ripple could cripple Thunder Bay’s very government dollar dependent economy.
One of the problems right now is for some in the city, any critical comment on how we are going is not seen as constructive.
The Chamber of Commerce tried to point out problems, their report, done by Lakehead University students who later received awards for their work, was downplayed.
When MoneySense Magazine was showing Thunder Bay rising to the 20th best city to live in Canada no one at City Hall was upset or critical.
Now, with Thunder Bay falling like a stone and out of the top 120 rankings, the news isn’t being viewed with an eye that improvement is needed or that a re-focus is needed. The methodology of the rankings are being called into question.
Council which should serve as the watchdog over Administration is often not making Admin work for it. There should not be a fight going on, but Council should be making sure all the background work is done.
We have seen how getting aboard a band-wagon can cost the city.
Legal costs are climbing, and so too are the long list of excuses.
Thunder Bay can, and Thunder Bay must do better.
We can’t afford to do any less.