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2013-12-21 at 11:45

Plan for the future

By Jamie Smith,
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Ahsanul Habib always sees potential in the city's old buildings but his vision for the downtown South core is taking it to the next level.

The local architect is known for taking old places and making them new. He's transformed the former McKellar hospital into a senior's home, saved the facade of the Bank of Commerce and has plans to turn Fort William Collegiate Institute into condominiums.

But during his latest project, which is turning the Roy Building on Victoria Avenue into affordable housing, he realized that the whole street could use a transformation. Why not turn Victoria Avenue from Brodie Street to Simpson Street into an all-season pedestrian market? He recently presented his grand vision for the area saying it could bring people to the under-used downtown, generate revenue and save countless old buildings by giving them a new lease on life. Habib sees retail shops, farmers markets and even kiosks selling ice cream in the middle of the street as a great way to get people back to the neighbourhood.

"This area is dead," he said, surrounded by old photographs showing crowds of people pacing the streets of downtown Fort William.

"Every year we're losing a little bit (of the city's history)... You will never replace those old buildings."

Habib, who does own several buildings in the area, stressed that he's only one man with an idea. To his vision realized, it needs the support of city leaders and the business community. And it will only work if it can generate revenue. He understands tax payers don't want to be on the hook for a project that loses money.

"If they want this it will happen," he said. "I want it as a business not just spending money."

City development manager Mark Smith said he loves the idea. Zoning would already permit most of the proposal. Most of the infrastructure is already in place and blocking off streets would be the easy part. The difficulty is seeing whether the business community wants it.

"I think that its certainly an idea worth talking about and trying to move towards," he said.

Mayor Keith Hobbs said he's called the area a ghetto before but he really wants to see it thrive.

"That would be awesome, to have pedestrian congestion in the downtown," he said. "This is a great plan."

And the more people in an area, the safer it becomes. Hobbs said moving the South side bus terminal to city hall has done a lot to reduce the crime rate there.

"Those are the kinds of things you want to see," he said.

It reminds the mayor of Sparks Street in Ottawa. Habib said he's visited places like that, along with Toronto and Montreal, which is where the idea came from. Some have already criticized his all-weather plan because it's too cold in Thunder Bay during the winter.

"Their climate isn't any better than ours," he said.

Hobbs and Smith said a lot of consultation and discussion needs to take place before anything moves forward.

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Tbay99 says:
And what exactly do you do with the drinks and drug addicts currently wondering these areas? This area is dead for a reason it isn't safe! Every city has problem areas you cannot use tax dollars to create a perfect city no matter how hard you try.
12/21/2013 12:18:39 PM
DRL1979 says:
Tbay99, I love your positive attitude. Never one for optimism. It starts with an idea. This is a great idea and could start the necessary changes needed for the south core. Look all over the world and you will find areas that were once considered poor and over running with crime that have changed over time to become places of value. Look at what has happened to parts of Harlem.

First an idea, than a plan. What's the solution about the poverty in the area? I don't know. Let's start by given them help so they can eventually help themselves.
12/21/2013 2:21:42 PM
Eastender says:
Here we go with another pie in the sky proposal that will go nowhere, except bankrupt this city further. Haven't you learned from Victoriaville? Did city administration/council, of that day, envision the disaster that is now the south core when they concieved Victoriaville? Does any one not understand the concept that you cant tax your way into prosperity. It was Winston Churchill who once said that trying to spend your way into prosperity, is like a man climbing into a bucket, and trying to lift himself up by the handle. The south core downtown area is a runaway train wreck, and no amount of tax spending is going to stop it. The only thing that will ever bring this city prosperity, is new industry, which I dont envision materializing any time in the near future. Where is the economic engine of this city? The tax funded public service employees are basically keeping this city alive, to which I refer you to Mr. Churchills comment. Thunder Bay, likened to Ottawa? Indeed!
12/21/2013 12:47:10 PM
Bobby Knock says:
Lets add to the concern of parking spaces with that new court house.

A better place for the idea would be along Bay Street or part of Cumberland St.
12/21/2013 1:00:20 PM
rootbear says:
Habib for mayor!
12/21/2013 1:18:45 PM
cm punk says:
Habib has vision and hope that this became a reality.
More people like him are needed in city council not the current spending yahoo bandits
12/21/2013 1:38:51 PM
tsb says:
This would certainly be the best use of the neighbourhood. With big changes for Simpson Street in the works, everything is going to start coming together soon. By 2020, this neighbourhood will be a much different and much better place!
12/21/2013 1:42:45 PM
progress now says:
Best use?

If true I wish someone would show me.

Victoriaville interferes with the natural flow of the south core. Would this not compound the problem?

Pedestrian streets to be popular have to be pretty big...

I like Mr. Habib, but what goes on in the south core has to be part of a thoughtful master plan for the city. This is just a little too ad hoc for my taste, coming especially as it does a few days before an election is called.

Now is the time to reclaim Victoria Avenue. Not seal its fate.

12/21/2013 8:52:16 PM
tsb says:
The South Core flows in a way that takes Victoriaville into consideration. It has been 33 years now, it's not like it just popped up and people are driving into it because they forgot it's there.

Simpson Street doesn't flow well into Victoria Avenue anymore, there are less than 500 cars per day using that stretch. Everyone goes to Arthur. It's a faster moving street, anyway. With improvements, Victoria and be connected to Simpson via Vickers and Miles. The space exists to improve the turning radii at all three corners and form a sort of northern ring road around downtown. Buses will be doing this soon, regular traffic can follow. Once you've taken the time to study how traffic works in this area, patterns emerge and it would be best that the city take advantage of that by upgrading what is already in place.
12/22/2013 10:22:35 AM
progress now says:
You say:

"The South Core flows in a way that takes Victoriaville into consideration".

I agree - dysfunctionally.

You say:

"It has been 33 years now, it's not like it just popped up and people are driving into it because they forgot it's there".

I agree somewhat. They should have restored Victoria Avenue 25 years ago admitting the planning error as Ottawa did. Driving down Victoria to run smack into Victoriaville simply is not a situation that can, in my view, be defended very well.

I could go on but in short you and I have a different view of the situation on Victoria. That is perfectly fine because you have a thought out view and you engage thoughtful debate, which is what this city really needs and sees very little of.

Whatever direction we go on Victoria I want to see it come about as the result of informed, lively discussion in the community.

I believe that can and must happen.
12/22/2013 2:43:51 PM
tsb says:
My biggest concern with regards to Victoriavile will be the cost of demolishing it. At this point, that will surely exceed the cost of building it, at least nominally. We have about a dozen established businesses located in the "street" in Victoriaville, and those would have to be relocated. I don't want a repeat of the CN Station situation where the city takes profitable, popular businesses and kicks them into the cold because it's doing something different. They need to be compensated somehow. Secondly, many of the buildings fronting into Victoriaville have renovated their fronts into indoor mall storefronts. Weatherproofing has been removed, so if the mall were to disappear, they would all have to be renovated. Those buildings are privately owned, and in my opinion it would be inappropriate for the city to force renovations on those people. I'm not opposed to the idea of demolishing the mall, but it needs serious consultation and we need to accept that it will be expensive to do so.
12/23/2013 7:10:19 AM
keiths31 says:
Nice idea. To those wondering about the 'drunks and druggies', as we have seen happen in the North Core, when you have more people utilizing the area, the undesirables move somewhere else. Both cores were filled with 'drunks and druggies' not too long ago. The city stepped up and helped the North Core develop into what it is today. There is nothing saying the South Core can't be that way too.

It makes me laugh and also saddens me that so many people want to give up on the South Core. We are one city (as is pointed out so many times in these threads) and should we want the city as a whole to succeed?

Habib believes in the city and South Core and has done more than anyone else in this city (including the city itself) to promote and build the South Core. And he is right. He is only 'one man with an idea'. Which is far more than anyone on here has ever done. Hats off to Habib. Looking forward to seeing more on this.
12/21/2013 2:04:24 PM
unheard says:
if you believe the north core is free of your drunks n druggies
you are delusional
12/21/2013 8:09:06 PM
crazyforweed says:
It really is disapointing to read the negative comments ,someone throw's an idea out there to try and bring up the neighbourhood and the few of you don't even give the guy credit for pitching a great idea , you think the south core is bad ? ,have any of you been to downtown vancouver ? where' theres bums and drug addicts just feet away BUT yet they have a starbucks on almost every corner and boostin downtown with plenty to do regardless of what lingers around ,people like you who have nothing but negative comments about new developement plz.. just keep it to yourself ,you sound pathetic
12/21/2013 2:41:10 PM
mystified says:
I totally agree with you on your comment. This city is full of negative people and unfortunately some of the worst are on here constantly spewing their armchair expert opinions on everything that happens.
You are right about Vancouver. The homeless are there but the residents go on with life and are not afraid to go downtown because there is nothing to be afraid of.
The critics in this city have never been to a real city where revitalization has turned areas that were once run down into vibrant tourist areas. Everyone here wants it for nothing and thinks there own personal tax contributions pay for everything.
Merry Christmas to the positive thinking miserable people can enjoy you coal.
12/21/2013 5:32:46 PM
Eastender says:
Im sure Mr. Habib is a fine architect, and, I would also like to see the south core revitalized, however I am a realist and prefer to deal with reallity. The reality is that Mr. Habib, and others, apparently own real estate in this area, and if they can get taxpayers to pay for upgrades, their real estate values will rise. Now I am all for seeing this area thrive, however, with T. Bays economic situation, I dont see this happening. Shops, restaurants, and boutiques, require a fairly affluent population, to support them. There are just not enough affluent people in this area, even in this town to support this lifestyle. Where do you think the druggies, the pushers, the prostitutes, the brawlers, the drunks, are going to go?
Vancouver has the weather, the tourists, and the affluence to overcome the negative image of the drug culture there. You want to see similar results in Thunder Bay? I hardly think that will transform this city into Ottawa, or Vancouver. No tax dollars.
12/21/2013 5:56:02 PM
jonthunder says:
The solution to the north core downtown problem in the 1970's at amalgamation was the win by Saul Laskin to get Urban renewal funding, tear down all the old hotels and rooming houses and force the down and out population to Fort William - the Simpson and May Street areas. That is where the city problem now resides. Putting in businesses without dealing with the social problems of the area will not address the problem and be a sure failure. Where will the down and out of the south core area go to, or how will they be rehabilitated? Those are the issues, and without dealing with them there will be no solution or wise expenditure of tax dollars. Hopefully, logic and common sense will prevail; but, I doubt it, because the decisions are very tough and heart wrenching....j
12/21/2013 3:43:50 PM
Shelby Ch'ng says:
As a business owner in this area I LOVE this idea. I grew up in the area and I would really like to see this a possibility. There is a lot of empty spaces here. I think it would attract the kind of business owners who want to see change in the area. This area has been neglected for far too long. It is beautiful and charming. You can only push the darkness out with light. This area will be the crown for the city one day. Good job to Habib! I will support this as a Victoria Ave business owner.
12/21/2013 4:14:15 PM
young&concerned says:
It looks just fantastic, it looks like a perfect world...not a pirate to be found!!!
12/21/2013 4:23:20 PM
TBDR says:
I laugh at the people calling this a pie in the sky idea. They do this all over the world...
12/21/2013 5:09:59 PM
peas08 says:
If you tear down victoria ville there's half your problem solved. Time to clean up the area and enforce no loitering.
12/21/2013 6:00:35 PM
Cletus Van Damme says:
The Simpson area will begin to bustle all on its own soon. Didn't you hear... prostitution laws have been recently thrown out!
12/21/2013 7:42:16 PM
tsb says:
The health unit is expanding rapidly, and plans are coming together to put more housing in the area. In 10 years, the street will be lined with low-cost co-operative housing and more small businesses. The crime and prostitution problems in the area are going down and, regardless, most prostitutes are on Court Street now anyway and that area isn't doing too bad.
12/22/2013 10:26:05 AM
anotarba says:
I welcome the idea and all the comments, negative and positive. As the article says this isn't a perfect plan just yet, but if more and more people talk about it, something good may come out of this. I think this man has made the effort to make our city better and perhaps this is a good start for planners to move forward with it. My only concern is the businesses and if there are going to be Police around to deal with theft and the security of those businesses. I drive by Simpson street all the time and realize that there is definitely an issue in that area... But we can't all agree on all the points... Lets not get on each other's backs about concerns and instead try to address those concerns.
12/22/2013 7:57:19 AM
Tbay99 says:
@DRL how much more help do you expect to give those in poverty? When is it ever enough to you? There is LOTS offered to help those struggling in poverty to better themselves.
12/22/2013 9:33:14 AM
YellowSnow13 says:
By the way, when is FWCI going to be turned into Condo's? Looks like an empty building to me. For how many years now? Didn't most of the people at McKeller just move out and there is only 1 floor open. Maybe he should finish a project before biting off more than he can chew.
12/22/2013 10:22:53 AM
progress now says:
This is a good point YellowSnow.

The city is VERY aware that there is a gathering storm in the south core that is angry, and ready to punish council for what is seen as a dereliction of responsibility in multiple neighbourhoods, and a rob Peter to pay Paul planning process. There is an election coming up and so the timing here, as I suggested earlier is suspicious. Note Councillor Angus is an Associate in Mr. Habib's firm.

That said, I like Mr. Habib. It won't stop me from advocating growth that is right for Thunder Bay though, even if it runs contrary to a "vision" he may offer.

Public interest must trump self interest.
12/22/2013 2:53:47 PM
myopinionmatters says:
Ah yes, there goes the coalition for positive change again. This is a GOOD idea and will help revitalize a neighbourhood that needs it. Without ideas and visions we would all live in caves. People, for once try to see the positive in something...and by the way, Merry Christmas!
12/22/2013 4:20:18 PM
fastball says:
Yes, Thunder Bay - by all means, let's mock a guy who's hasn't totally written off the South Core. Let's just immediately shoot down any suggestions he might have, without even having heard anything - and just automatically consign the place to continue to rot and wither away.
It's a self-fulfilling prophesy in this town - where the nay-sayers and the gloom-and-doom Chicken Little-types fill the air with their negativity. At least let's listen to the man's plan - because anything is better than the current situation in the downtown South Core. It's not totally the City's obligation to fix the South Core...eventually private enterprise will do that. But someone has to take the lead at some point and start the process.
12/22/2013 9:22:25 PM
Eastender says:
You can be as positive as you want, but when the ship is sinking you better put your life vest on and head for the lifeboats. When the Titanic was sinking, the positive people kept dancing and drinking. There is a point of no return, and all the positivity in the world wont patch the hole in the boat. Dontchaknow?
12/24/2013 1:55:57 AM
freepostg says:
Yellow snow makes the best point of this entire board. If you start something, finish it. FWCI continues to exist as an eye sore. Such a beautiful building. It's a shame to see it rot. Mr. Habib should concentrate on one thing at a time. He has good intentions.
12/22/2013 10:31:41 PM
Oldnews says:
Back in the early 1960's, Lydon Y. MacIntosh, Architect had a office building on the corner of McVickers and Simpson St, which today is Victoria and Simpson. He proposed the same idea as Habib, but covered. I asked him about why not go to the next block where Victoriaville is; and his comment was it will kill the flow of traffic to the downtown area. It appears today he was very correct.
12/23/2013 11:50:04 AM
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