September 13, 2011

Windsor residents tour site of downtown library and aquatic complex.

by Dave Battagello

City of Windsor's Don Sadler, centre, and Mario Sonego, left, conduct a tour on University Avenue West, near the
proposed site of the new aquatic centre September 13, 2011 Photograph by: Nick Brancaccio, The Windsor Star

WINDSOR, Ont. -- It’s decision-making time for those who have a say in the final design of the proposed $60-million downtown aquatic centre.

And to help them better visualize what the facility should look like and be included indoors, several top city administrators led a group of about three dozen stakeholders on an hour-long neighbourhood walking tour Tuesday around the perimeter of the proposed site.

“What’s important is to collectively give this group a look at the site so they can put in context the size of the building we will put here,” said Don Sadler, the city’s executive director of parks and facilities and a tour leader.

“Everybody can also see the amenities that exist around the site and relationship our new building will have with that.”

The group started on the grounds of the art gallery, just south of the proposed site — currently a Pitt Street municipal parking lot located between Bruce Avenue and Church Street. They walked north down Bruce, then turned east down University Avenue and north back down Victoria Avenue, working their way back to the art gallery.

What they saw was largely a hodgepodge of vacant lots and aging business facades. But also noted was the growing presence of St. Clair College students and soon-to-be University of Windsor presence which city leaders believe combined with the aquatic centre will trigger new life downtown.

In order to prevent the aquatic centre — which will feature a competitive swimming pool and water park — from becoming an island unto itself, the city is poised to offer financial incentives to hopefully spark new development around the site, said City Planner Thom Hunt.

The city will hand out grants, tax rebates or other business incentives to nearby property owners, he said.

“We hope folks will take advantage of the aquatic centre, the campuses coming downtown and see the dynamics are changing,” Hunt said.

“It’s definitely a win for private developers and residents in terms of seeing this site developed downtown.”

Following the tour, the group sat down at the Hilton Hotel where over two days they were to conduct brainstorming sessions to determine what the aquatic centre should look like and include in the final design.

“During this two-day session everybody will put their minds together, suggest the best ideas of what they want to see in the new facility,” said Coun. Drew Dilkens, chairman of the aquatic centre’s steering committee.

“It will become the baseline that will guide the project.”

A public open house is scheduled for Sept. 20 at the Hilton between 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. to present the group’s preferences for the facility and seek community feedback before final plans are determined at the end of this month.

The plans will then be turned over to pre-qualified contractors who will have roughly two months to assemble final drawings and costs for city council to make a decision on picking the winning proponent in December.

Construction on the centre is scheduled to start in January.

The competitive swimming pool at the centre has to be completed in time for the International Children’s Summer Games that will be hosted in Windsor from Aug. 14 to Aug. 19, 2013.