Stratford Gazette editorial
Last week’s Stratford Heritage meeting proved what a colossal mess the Cooper site situation has become. Coun. Karen Smythe’s unexpected decision to get up and leave the meeting when members of the Grand Trunk Heritage Site Committee started in with tough questions is perhaps the strongest indication yet that this council is not anywhere near prepared to make a decision on the future of the prime downtown property and its historically significant building.
But make no mistake about it; the longer we wait for a decision the longer we go until we start to see progress on other important municipally owned downtown properties. What to do with Market Square and the Erie Street parking lot very much depend on the fate of the site.
If council were to commit to a parking lot or a garage within parts of the existing structure, than the concerns about lost parking behind City Hall become a bit more easily digestible for our downtown merchants. But if additional parking isn’t in the cards there, then all of a sudden the need to maximize space in the municipal lot on Erie Street – and possibly find another location for a lot – becomes increasingly important. The city keeps tripping over its feet as it tries to move forward.
And keep in mind decisions regarding Market Square have a certain time frame. Walmart’s $1.25 million gift towards the project, as appreciated as it is, couldn’t have come at a worse time for a city struggling with much bigger planning challenges. The corporate donation is good only until 2018, and could unfortunately force the city’s hand to make a rash decision when prudence should be in order, especially when there’s no money sitting in reserves for such an elaborate project.
So much has been said about the Cooper site – both on the record and off – over the last decade that it’s difficult to know what or who is responsible for the inactivity. While city council has every right to discuss legal matters regarding the ongoing litigation with former site owner Lawrence Ryan behind closed doors, the many in-camera sessions certainly haven’t added any clarity to the situation – or quell a growing distrust amongst some in the community who feel the city is dragging its feet on development of the land for undisclosed reasons.
The city is moving slowly ahead by beginning to look into possible public uses for the site. But the costing phase of that analysis is still a ways out. With a near lame-duck council already, it looks as if the Cooper site and its related messes won’t be cleaned up until our next local government takes form.