THUNDER BAY – With a decision on the future of the Victoriaville Centre only days away, city councillors are already looking ahead to next steps in shaping the future of Thunder Bay’s south core.
Coun. Mark Bentz is proposing the creation of a new advisory committee of council focused on renewal of the south core. He says the move would help ensure input from the public and business community on the reimagining of Victoriaville, as well as revitalizing the neighbourhood more broadly.
Given the transformative possibilities for the site – consultants have suggested the centre could be partially or wholly demolished to make room for a public plaza, outdoor shopping, and events – the timing is right for the city to focus more attention on the area’s future, Bentz said.
“I feel that we need to turn our sights onto the south core, and do things we feel are going to renew it and change its trajectory,” he said.
Coun. Brian Hamilton, whose McKellar Ward includes Victoriaville and much of the business district, expressed confidence council would vote to fully demolish the centre Monday, opening major new possibilities.
He’s supportive of Bentz’s motion, saying the formation of an advisory committee would help give residents and stakeholders a voice in the area's future. He hopes to sit on the committee himself, he added.
Both Benz and Hamilton disagreed with the suggestion the area had been neglected by the city, but supported putting a greater focus it.
Hamilton cautioned that the city’s ability to shape business districts is somewhat limited, arguing renewal in the north core was driven by private investment.
“Ultimately, we can’t control where businesses choose to set up,” he said. “Any big changes are going to be driven by the private sector.”
In terms of where the municipality could make an impact, he said making a firm decision on Victoriaville was a major step in the right direction. Others include investing in safety and social services in the area, he believes.
Jim Hupka, vice chair of the Fort William Business District Business Improvement Area (BIA), welcomed Bentz's proposal, saying it had first been raised to the group earlier this week. The BIA would want to be actively involved, he said, adding the city plays a crucial role in the success of the south core.
“We need the help and the cooperation of the city to work with us to make the south core stronger,” he said.
Renewal work on Victoriaville was unlikely to begin until 2022, he said, giving the BIA plenty of time to canvass its members for input that could support the committee’s work.
Bentz’s motion asks city administration to draw up draft terms of reference for the committee before the end of January, suggesting it could be modeled after the Waterfront Development Committee that helped guide renovation of Prince Arthur’s Landing.
It will be debated Monday, after council considers options for the future of Victoriaville.