Depending on who you talk to, the Cooper site is called a lot of things: a site with great potential, an eyesore, a railway mecca, or a money hole.
But to Council, the empty railway shops are quickly becoming a carpet under which to brush projects for which there are no current resources or money.
The Cooper site in not as big as you think. Remember that half of the property has already been promised to the University of Waterloo.
Of what’s left, city Council and staff have discussed building a new police station, a library annex, an extension for the YMCA, parking lots, and a bus depot.
Thankfully, the new skatepark- which was also on the Cooper site shortlist at one point- was relocated to Shakespeare Park.
The latest candidate is a relocated Kiwanis Centre, part of a project being called the Community Hub project. This latest idea cropped up after the Stratford Festival expressed interest in renovating the Tom Patterson Theatre, taking the entire riverside site for itself. The patrons of the Kiwanis Centre, which include the Stratford Lakeside Active Adults Association (SLAAA), would be relocated to a new facility at the Cooper site.
You can guess that many of the Kiwanis people are not thrilled by the idea. After all, the Cooper site has been promised to others before- cops, librarians, and motorists alike. SLAAA and co. join a long list of people who may or may not inherit a corner of the property. After all, as previously mentioned, the Cooper site is only so big. Not everyone is going to fit.
It’s been said a million times before, but what Council needs is vision and a clear plan for the site. During the last Council term, there was a clandestine attitude that no details could be discussed regarding the site due to ownership issues being analyzed in court. However, since former owner Lawrence Ryan went public with his stance on the matter and city officials, including Mayor Dan Mathieson and then-CEO Ron Shaw, responded in kind, it’s clear we’re all free to discuss it as much as we want.
The hold-up now appears to lie with the University of Waterloo, who has been conducting a lengthy study regarding exactly which half of the property it wants.
And while it’s understandable that council and city staff would like a clear picture of exactly what space they have to work with before they start drawing up blueprints, blueprints are not exactly needed right now. Instead, what would be helpful would be a clear idea as to who will occupy it. That way, those who miss out can begin looking elsewhere for needed space, rather than being perpetually held in Cooper site limbo.
We can also start whittling down potential candidates. One that we could do without is the bus depot. Coun. Kerry McManus has brought up the idea of a hubless transit system numerous times in the past, and it sounds as if some have begun to warm to the idea.
Others, when they first hear talk of a hubless system, assume that bus riders will be completely shut out of the downtown core.
In fact, under such a system, buses would still make regular stops downtown; they just wouldn’t all idle at City Hall. Riders could take one bus downtown, do what they came for, then either hop on the bus home or transfer to another route, much like the system provides for currently.
Public washrooms and driver break rooms would still be available at City Hall. What would not be available is a new, multi-million dollar facility paid for by taxes.
The city’s director of community services, David St. Louis, says a hubless system is an option, noting there would be challenges in re-designing the current route system in order to ensure transfer points operate at maximum efficiency. He also estimated that, under a hubless system, buses on key routes would likely make multiple stops downtown.
“There’s merit for both,” says St. Louis of both a hub-based and a hubless system; however, he adds that the hubless system “would be a complete overhaul of what we do today.”
Speaking of complete overhauls, CAO Rob Horne brought up an interesting point when he was asked about the potential for a hubless system by the Gazette. He noted a marked difference between a municipal bus-only hub and a full-on transportation hub that would act as a nexus for city buses, Greyhound and GO buses, VIA Rail services and, dare we hope, GO Trains. Such a site could be located at the pre-existing Stratford VIA Station.
Now that’s a concept with some wheels.
- Stratford Gazette editorial