Waterfront visioning exercise presented; lots of good ideas

Ribbon cutting at the new Economic Development and Tourism Centre
The new Economic Development and Tourism Centre hosted the Towns July 23 Committee of the Whole meeting Monday night. On hand for the ribbon cutting were Councillors Jay Brenna, Dawn Quinn, Mayor Shawn Pankow, Councillors Lorraine Allen, Joe Gallipeau and John Maloney.
Posted on: July 24, 2018

Sally Smith

Smiths Falls CAO, Malcolm Morris, was taken to task Monday night at Committee of the Whole. Morris presented the findings of a Waterfront Visioning Exercise undertaken in late March this year of which the general tone was interest, intrigue, potential and possibilities. The chastisement came from councillors who hadn’t been invited to the forum; Mayor Shawn Pankow was the only one present among other Town stakeholders — restauraters, entrepreneurs, business people, Parks Canada, to name a few.

The goal was to create enthusiasm and build ideas about the future of Smiths Falls, its downtown area, the importance of the Rideau Canal, and to look at “branding” the Town as the “heart of the canal.”

Placemaking, as an idea, was introduced — “creating a sense of place” and choosing what should be there, creating 10 destinations for people to go, or things to do to keep them here and coming back. Guiding principles during the workshop included giving thought to “pedestrian connections — foot and bicycle” and the docks, among others.

Recommendations included co-ordinating public and private sector initiatives, streetscape redevelopment on Beckwith, developing Civic Square, detailed plans for the waterfront and implementing a five-year Community Improvement Plan to encourage private property development in the downtown and waterfront area.

Exciting (and quirky) ideas emanating from the visioning exercise included: zip-lining from the water tower, a floating restaurant or theatre in the abandoned lock, improving access to water, theatre ghost walks, walking paths with seating and observing nooks, canal-side experiences like more boat rentals, more ice-cream shops, picnic areas, waterside kiosks, waterside theatre, buskers, music, outdoor art exhibitions.

Other ideas included night lighting of the Bascule bridge, the Falls and canal structures, pop-up activities and events, Bed and Breakfast initiatives, Farmers’ Market, public washrooms, old railway car usage, and outdoor skating in the winter.

Morris described these possible events and happenings as “a way to build emotional and social ties, activities for locals to hold dear to their hearts.” And above all, he described Smiths Falls as a “family friendly and safe” place to visit.

The greatest asset of the Town according to those at the exercise is the abandoned lock; the challenges for visitors are “it’s not always easy to get to the water (if you have a boat), more services for boaters (gas), and the length between attractions — need more pedestrian walkways and better signage.”

From this point, with the visioning exercise in hand, the path forward is to categorize the ideas, discuss projects and initiatives, develop plans and budgets, and get stakeholders on-side.

Councillor Gallipeau wondered where the money was going to come from and answered his own question — “help from the private sector and entrepreneurs.” He was also concerned at Morris’ mention of “moving Victoria Park.”

“Where would it go?”he asked. He offered to sit with Chamber of Commerce members to develop a short term plan before the present council goes into lame-duck mode. The Chamber of Commerce handles the leasing of camp sites; its current agreement with the Town ends December 31 this year.

Councillor Quinn also expressed concern at the fast-approaching date, and also offered to sit with Chamber members to work out a deal. “If not tonight,” she said, “how about tomorrow morning?”

Councillor Brennan agreed. “The first thing is to get a lease for the Chamber.”

Councillor Maloney commented he had heard the Town had “already lost some seasonal campers,” because of the unsureness of future leases.

Councillor Brennan, in the chair Monday night, requested staff “to narrow down the focus” and begin to figure out what to do with, and for, the Chamber.