Proposed beach development and lease described in detail

At the recent Saugeen Shores special meeting of Committee of the Whole on the topic of the proposed Port Elgin Beach revitalization development held December 16th, there were speakers at the Open Forum and three delegations.  The proponents represented by Pier Donnini and their architect Grant Diemert also explained the project in more detail to the more than 200 people who filled the Rotary Hall.

“The process of restoring our waterfront began years ago,” said Donnini.  “The goal has always been to maximize the use of this space for the majority.”

According to Donnini, there were over 15 interested parties that registered in response to the Request for Proposal (RFP).  “Therefore, we knew that our proposal had to fit the needs of as many as possible.  Mine and our group’s self interest and selfish vision would have been to open a bar and restaurant and that’s it but we didn’t do that because that isn’t what the community needs”

“We are not building on the beach or proposing to do that. Reclaimng an under-utilized asset was always the goal if it could be done with minimal financial impact to the taxpayers. Our vision all along was guided by the Waterfront Master Plan creating a destination where people could have experiences, include activities that made sense and design it to fit,” said Donnini.

He went on to say that the Port Elgin beach has a long history of public and private events. “Long and exhaustive public consultation and hundreds of constructive suggestions helped us understand what many wanted to see.  Staff devoted hundreds of man hours and used their collective experience to help craft an agreement defining the interests of the municipality as well as ours.”

According to Donnini, the plan is the best of all worlds – “… thoughtful planning that considers many factors, long term vision and viability to have this asset available for  generations.”

The project he says is a series of interconnected parts and the are designed with what each brings to the table.

  • Whitefish Grill will be a four season restaurant that will give the opportunity to enjoy a wide range of food and drink while taking in the view – patio for the summer and warm fireplace in the winter.
  • ‘event hall’ will be a year-round activity centre shared by all groups. Shared community spaces needs structure to hold activities.  Economic viability is important so that it can sustain itself over the long term and not have a negative economic impact on the municipality. Provide predictable activity to allow other activities and services. Hall in addition to paid events, will be available for community groups.
  • kids’ activity centre with kids zone for all ages year round
  • beach market – a multi-use structure to update what was the ‘flea market’ with proceeds going to non-profits; vision is for more markets (not only Wednesdays); weekend food markets; seasonal pop-ups; available to groups for activities
  • harbour store – for boaters and others; meals to go; tuck shop; beach-related rentals
  • tourism office for staff to serve visitors
  • four-season bathroom facility

Year-round maintenance of the entire structure will have no financial impact on the municipality, according to Donnini.  Leasable space will also be offered to selected businesses that provide products and services that fit with the recreational, marina-waterfront setting.

Cedar Crescent Square:

  • open, public multi-use privately owned and funded
  • volleyball; summer music festivals; fundraisers; winter carnivals; ice skating;
  • Train – electric, sustainable, easy to operate, all-surface capability

“The process to get here has worked and Council and staff have taken their responsibility seriously.  We are lucky to live where we do and have engaged citizens.  Lucky to live in a vibrant growing town with the resources to make our lives better,” added Donnini.  “The land in question is one of those resources and it belongs to all of us.  We have a duty to ensure we use that resource to the maximum for all of us at the lowest cost.  This is one of those unique opportunities and we take this responsibility seriously.  We will not let our friends, family or community down.”

Architect Grant Diemert contracted by the investors’ groups, said that the design has been done with careful attention to the local environment and the spaces that interact and interconnect with it.  “Cedar Crescent Village square is very flexible,” said Diemert.  “It has light standards, the ability to be decorated, the sand for volleyball can be removed, ice surface could be put in place and all this has been incorporated int he design.”

The square is surrounded by buildings that, according to Diemert, to give it definition and form boundaries.  “The buildings, particularly, the market separates the square form the parking area located on the former mini-putt.  They also provide protection against storms that blow in off the lake.”

There are two two-storey buildings – the event hall and the Whitefish Grill; a one a half store for the kids’ zone and a single storey for the market.  There is also a taller ‘sunset terrace’ viewing platform with an elevator overlooking the harbour. There is a main public access through the market.  There are several connecting walkways.  Buildings are clad in materials similar to those on the east coast of North America – cedar shingles, coastal motifs, etc. and are fully accessible.

Following the architect, CAO David Smith recapped the proposed development lease.  According to Smith, the town had the option of selling the property but chose instead to lease it.

Smith said that the proposal achieves the goals of the Strategic Plan, the Waterfront Master Plan and the Tourism Strategy.  “Because of the length, the value, the importance and the location of the proposal, we put a tremendous amount of effort into something that protects the town the town, is clear, fairly allows the project to proceed and is stronger than any lease we have ever done.”

The CAO said that it was important to note that the entire proposal should be considered in totality.  “Our goals are the goals of the Waterfront Master Plan, the proposal from the proponent and the lease.  It is easy to zero in on one or two items in an attempt to upset the cart.  I encourage Council and the community to consider the entire outcome in totality.  The lease is extensive and is to use the vacant land and build on it.  We recognize the importance of our waterfront and that’s why it took months to negotiate the lease.”

He also pointed out the the proponent will pay taxes that are set by MPAC.  “The property taxes paid by the proponent will more than pay for the snow clearing costs. The proponent will also pay development charges, building permit fees and will pay rent estimated at about $82,500.  The former tenants of the Train Station paid $5,000.”

The town has also decided however, to accept services in lieu of rent for the first 15 years.  During the constructon phase while services are not available, the proponent will pay rent to be held by the town and used toward improvements at the main beach.

According to the CAO, the town and the proponent will meet every five years and after 15 years, the town can opt out of services if it wishes and collect rent.  The proponent is also required to maintain the property in a like-new condition and not allow it to become ‘run down’.

“The lease puts Council in the driver’s seat,” said Smith.  “The town approves the design, the construction schedule, the exterior signage, sub-leases, the zoning, the changes to the build form in the future.  There are many checks and balances to ensure residents and visitors are well served by the revitalization but not so many as to hamstring the proponents success.  We want them to be successful and the lease gives them some degree of autonomy.  It is unreasonable to set a high bar and then take away all the tools to achieve it.”

“The proponent bears 99 per cent of the costs while bringing expertise and capital to the project while the town brings the vacant land,” said Smith. ” Investment by the town at the main beach is separate from the development and will continue as it is a strategic priority.  This revitalization is to bring people to the waterfront 12 months of the year and is a good goal.”

Council’s approval means that the project moves to the next step.  “There are many steps but this is the most significant one. There is still lots to do.”

For the CAO’s full report, CLICK HERE

Council also received a report from the Waterfront Ad Hoc Advisory Committee

  Next … Councilor statements