My husband and I attended the September 4th, 2018 meeting regarding amendments to the original Ontario Municipal boards order as it applies to the former Alma College site.
An official from the City of St. Thomas explained the details of the original OMB order which was issued January 15th, 2008. It allowed that the buildings could be demolished. The north central entrance way has to be retained and the north facade was to be replicated excluding the belfry and spire. The order required the property to be measured and documented and for the city to repeal the heritage designation.
On May 26th 2008 Alma College burned to the ground. The remains were demolished the next day.
In January 2018 the Alma College property was purchased by Patriot Properties to develop 430 new high-end multi residential units in three separate buildings. Research has shown that there's a desperate need for higher-end rental housing in St. Thomas.
After several failed attempts at designs replicating the facade of the original building, Patriot and their architects determined that it would be better to use a more contemporary heritage interpretation strategy; instead of replacing the original building they would create a structure that honored the original building.
The newest plan which Patriot proposed today includes an increase in green space between the three apartment buildings by moving 75% of parking to underground structures They plan to close the Moore Street gate to vehicles, making main access to the property from Ross and McIntyre Streets. There will be 430 units built over the three phases of the development.
As well as the contemporary structure or sculpture made of metal which will honour the front entrance of Alma College, there will be a bricked courtyard on the original site of the college, the granite gate pillars will be restored, the amphitheater will be restored, and the forecourt gardens will be restored. Patriot proposes that four Heritage plaques be installed on site, two of which will be at the McIntyre entrance on the granite gate pillars.
The next speaker was Russell Schnurr from the St. Thomas municipal heritage committee. He discussed the implications of not following the OMB order. The committee wants to replicate the facade, they want the OMB order to be met, and they want St. Thomas and Patriots to support our cultural heritage. He did mention that some CIP funding might be available if the order is faithfully implemented. This speaker is also a instructor at Fanshawe College and his students came up with a very interesting plan to replicate the facade which he shared with us. The presenter mentioned that he also liked these commemorative structure that Patriot is suggesting.
Dawn Doty, a neighbor of the Alma College property, reminded us that the original OMB decision was paid for by the City and citizens of St. Thomas. She would like to know what the cost was. She also mentioned that an archaeological site was noted in the decision and wanted to know if an assessment of the archaeological site had been done.
Doty does not support the removal of the OMB decision. She does support the newest Fanshawe College plan for the facade. She also requested that a decision on this matter be deferred until the next council is elected. Mayor Jackson responded that the decision will probably be made at the September 17th council meeting as the current Council has a mandate until the end of November.
The next speaker was Sue Smith who has an extensive list of credentials in urban planning and related fields. Smith is in support of the replication of the facade and is definitely against the repeal of the OMB order. She reminded us that the original order wasn't registered until 2010, 2 years after the fire that destroyed Alma College. Ms. Smith would like to know what the cities solicitors think about the repeal of the OMB order and she also asked what the cost of the original hearing was.
Nancy Mayberry is a citizen active in our local architectural and railway heritage. She discussed the National Standards of Conservancy and stated she is also against the repeal of the OMB order.
Sine Herold and Donna Robertson, both Alma College Alumni, spoke about the importance of the amphitheater to the alumni of Alma College and to local citizens. Many alumni do not believe that building a pretend Alma College is the proper way to remember her. Many letters from alumni were read out which support Patriot's proposals. At the June 2018 alumni reunion all in attendance approved.
Several other citizens, myself included, stepped to the microphone with comments or questions. I asked what would happen if the Ministry of Natural Resources did not approve plans for the amphitheater. Mayor Jackson reassured us that a plan is in place and that discussions would be made with the ministry to deal with any issues. I also asked what would happen if the city was unable to have the OMB order repealed. Would Patriot Properties pull out, leaving the abandoned rubble pile undeveloped?
John Vigars spoke about the need for high-end rental property in St Thomas. He challenge City County to remember that we already have a monument that we killed the world’s largest elephant. We have monuments to the fact that this city was abandoned by the railroads. He reminded us that we have already been abandoned by Ford, Timken, Clark and many other industries and asked that Patriot Properties not be added to that list. He challenged City Council to step up to the plate and move on this issue, not leaving it to the next council.
Neighbors in the Alma College area also spoke on the side of development, repealing the OMB ruling, and getting the apartments built.
Steve Peters asked what the cost would be to honor the OMB order. According to an article in the St. Thomas Times-Journal dated September 6th, Michael Loewith of Patriot Properties states that "a replica facade is financially 'unfeasible' because about 8,000 square feet of historic masonry would need to be recreated at a cost of about $5.1 million." Loewith also stated that if they are forced to recreate the facade "the project will not go through."
We will look forward to learning city Council at the September 17th meeting.