Another great Globe article below on how Kitchener is using incentives and a focused approach by their City and Council to attract new-age businesses to underused industrial sites.
We don’t have a stock of 19th century buildings in King to offer up. But between all three of King’s primary villages (including King City and Nobleton), Schomberg has the largest single amount of undeveloped zoned industrial lands in the Township.
In addition, Schomberg awaits imminent and eventual redevelopment for its now closed Schomberg Arena and Rona lands, respectively, plus two sizable brownfield sites visible to anyone traveling through our town.
Please excuse my focus in this post on Schomberg, the village I happen to live in. The principles are quite relevant across the Township and beyond. We have a particularly attractive development opportunity here with a dwindling shelf life. Read on and I think the principles I espouse will be clear.
This strategic approach to development seems like what we need to maximize these lands’ value to residents AND owners, by realizing several facets of our Integrated Community Sustainability Plan (proudly approved by King Council just this week).
I was a member of the Economics working committee, and we identified how important sustainable economic development is for King: Not merely to capitalize on King’s historic strengths (including equine, agricultural, natural and heritage attractions), but:
- New, wealth-creating sectors that encourage King residents to live near where they work; that
- Diversify King’s economy to include new high value-added products and services, where they make sense; and particularly,
- Compliment our Plan’s three other pillars: Socio-economic, Environmental and Financial sustainability.
There’s a great but short-lived opportunity, in my opinion, right in Schomberg: On the east side of Highway 27, a vast new property is now serviced and awaiting development. Currently the new Trisan Arena dominates the horizon there, standing alone on the north side of the property. The vacant lands wrap behind Sproule House, one of King’s few designated heritage properties, also currently vacant and awaiting a suitable tenant.
This large and serviced industrial-commercial plot of land in Schomberg is a potential goldmine if it can be leveraged to help realize King’s Sustainability Plan. OR … it can signify same-old-same-old for Schomberg and contribute to the area’s slow economic demise.
Schomberg possesses a unique opportunity to create its own Liberty Village North, if not in form, certainly in function.
King’s Economic Development Officer and Planning Department could work with the development owner, Mr. DePoce, to design, market and sell a campus-like high technology community complex where high-educated (and compensated) employees can live in Schomberg, walk and bike from their residences across the highway, and enjoy all the great lifestyle attributes Schomberg and greater King have to offer.
How would you like your Children to grow up, go to higher learning institutions, and come back to King for a stimulating, rewarding career, in large numbers?
Here are some recent images and further below, a 360 degree HD video clip of the site that will (hopefully) demonstrate to you the enormity and sensitivity of this opportunity for Schomberg:
The “status quo” or “do nothing” approach in my opinion, will see a smorgasbord of various low technology, low value-added companies bring yet another outside storage area, or auto garage, or fast food outlet serving commuters. Jobs that will do little to raise the bar for meaningful, sustainable employment in King.
There is an opportunity just waiting here, but not for long.
The Kitchener article is reproduced below. And for more:
- If this example from Kitchener interests you, have a look at Stratford’s approach: Economic Renewal: Arts Meets High-Tech in the New Stratford.
- Windsor has been quite proactive: see my pre-I.C.S.P. post: Economic Strategy for King: Laissez faire has gotten us nowhere.
KITCHENER FINDS ITS NEW GROOVE IN INDUSTRIAL PAST
KITCHENER, ONT.— Special to Globe and Mail
Published Monday, Apr. 02, 2012
Link to online article
Before they purchased a hulking former leather tannery in Kitchener – a symbol of disappearing traditional Ontario jobs in the city’s core – two Toronto-based developers asked to meet with this city’s planners.
When they arrived, Cadan Inc. partners Lana Sherman and Gary Maister were greeted by a contingent of top city officials and Mayor Carl Zehr, who broke off his vacation to head the meeting in the summer of 2007.
“That sent such a positive, strong signal to us,” says Ms. Sherman, managing director of Cadan, still astonished by the reception which put their Tannery project in motion. “It meant the city was going to work with us.”
The meeting highlighted Kitchener’s strategy of tax tools, zoning and an open-door attitude to woo investors to shed its blue-collar image. One recent success – renewal of the Lang Tannery as a 21st century home for digital media start-ups and giants – offers lessons for municipal leaders and developers.
“The city of Kitchener really put its money where its mouth was,” observes Karl Innanen, managing director of the Waterloo region office of Colliers International. “We have overcome inertia and things are happening.”
Three years before Cadan’s visit, the city imposed a special property tax levy of 1.25 per cent a year for a decade for an economic development investment fund worth $110-million. Its focus was postsecondary education and knowledge industries, not manufacturing, as catalysts for growth.
“We needed to make a bold statement,” Mr. Zehr says. “We had a number of older buildings and sites without buildings that could be ripe for employment lands.”
The city invested $30-million to locate the University of Waterloo’s $147-million school of pharmacy on a former eight-acre industrial site, purchased earlier by the city for $1, across from the Tannery. The city also put up $6.5-million to bring Wilfrid Laurier University’s faculty of social work to a vacant school several blocks from the Tannery.
“The combination of those few things really got people’s attention that something is happening here,” Mr. Zehr says.
In 2005, picking up on city signals, Andrin Homes sold out residential lofts from a $40-million conversion of a former rubber plant, one block from the Tannery.
The quickening pulse caught the attention of Cadan, which bought the Tannery for $10-million in 2007.
“The city’s involvement with the university frankly gave us confidence that the whole area was about to change,” Ms. Sherman says. Significantly, the Tannery is three blocks from a new transit hub that, by 2017, will bring a new regional light-rail service, Via Rail, GO Transit and buses under one roof.
In purchasing the building, a mix of storage and workshops since leather production ended in 1954, Cadan embarked on an environmental cleanup to convert 350,000 square feet to Class A office and retail.
Under a brownfields incentive program, Kitchener will reimburse the developer over a 10-year period, starting in 2013, for $891,000 in cleanup costs. In effect, the city funds the reimbursement from increases in property taxes tied to building upgrades.
“It’s a good compromise,” says brownfield co-ordinator Terry Boutilier. “The private sector gets help with costs of cleanup, and the public sector gets a cleaned-up property and an increased revenue stream.”
Aside from the cleanup, Cadan’s big challenge was to repurpose the building in the midst of a downturn. For months, the Cadan partners and architect Roland Rom Colthoff, a principal of Raw Design, walked the building to visualize its potential.
“What a mess,” Mr. Colthoff recalls. “It was literally a rabbit warren of corridors running everywhere. It was very difficult to navigate through the structure.”
His solution was to prune extraneous features while protecting heritage aspects. “One of the keys was to open it up so that you would have this sweep across the site that recognizes the principal buildings,” he says.
By 2008, Cadan settled on transforming the building as commercial space for high-tech tenants. That meant adding special features, such as abundant power for computer servers, showers and bike racks.
Executing the strategy entailed months of discussions with city officials. For its part, the city leased to Cadan temporary (for 10 years) parking spots to at nearby former works yard, easing on-site constraints.
“We did not always agree,” Ms. Sherman says. “But we had a dialogue, which was far more important than anything else.”
Through its investment fund, the city contributed $500,000 in seed money for a new digital media innovation hub created by Communitech, which represents 800 technology companies in Waterloo region.
One of the first to move in to the Tannery last year, Communitech leases 44,000 square feet of space where entrepreneurs (including 57 start-ups), investors, students and professors collaborate on digital media.
With its high ceilings, brick walls and natural lighting, the Tannery is an appealing environment for creative minds, says Kevin Tuer, vice-president of digital media for Communitech. “We are not the first to prove it, but there is this affinity for high-tech to align with the old architecture in the older buildings.”
Long overshadowed by twin-city Waterloo with the better-known postal code for technology, Kitchener looks to the Tannery and other industrial facelifts in the renamed “innovation district” to rebrand its blue-collar image with 21st century employers. Last year, search engine giant Google moved into a 34,000-square-foot space at the Tannery.
Two years ago, Ms. Sherman says, “people were not really open-minded to the idea of Kitchener and most wanted to be in Waterloo.” Now, she adds, “people are seeking us out.”
How Kitchener Renewed Its Core (Globe, April 2, 2012).
Kitchener’s Tannery District Reboots as High Tech Hub (Video, Globe, Feb. 21, 2012)