To the Editor:
One might believe that our local government would be anxious to keep a highly successful business operating on their leased land. Apparently not. The on-going concern continues to be how the owners of the Train, Andy and Debbie Hess, have been treated over the last four plus years.The town and new development representatives announced to the public that the Train could be included in their plans. The owners have not been contacted.
Before the public was informed of a possible deal, Andy and Debbie Hess received a legal demand from the town that they be off the property by July 19th. The property would then be declared abandoned. The town would assume control. Hess legally owns the Station and all above ground amenities. Actual construction of anything new is at least one year away and some have suggested up to four years away. Why the rush to expel Hess?Why would any possible resurrection of the Train be mentioned, particularly by town representatives, knowing the town’s latest actions? At best there might be a Train plaque. The unwarranted distractions aimed at the owners have taken a huge toll both physically and emotionally. Why was this manner of action necessary?
The owners were told in 2015 that the Train did not fit into the the Master Plan. The 2013 Master Plan states “refurbish and enhance existing recreational activities – train and mini putt” (page 97). How does that translate to “not fitting”? The owners did submit a major exterior renovation plan including the building, patio and mini putt. Does that sound uncooperative? Why were they still turned down? Why were they not offered a long term lease as suggested for the new development? For those critical of the facade, remember that investment of this level requires a fair lease with duration. Despite the Train’s long-time and on-going success, this was not being offered. Why?Andy and Debbie Hess are now closer to bankruptcy. If they walk, they lose everything. If they fight, they face mounting legal bills. Here is the rub: if normal negotiations had prevailed, which they did for the first 25 years, Hess would have already been into year three of a new lease and also been very active in upgrading the whole property.
It remains mind-boggling that council, all of them good people, continue to allow Andy and Debbie Hess, also very good people, to be treated UNLIKE the way they would want to be treated. Why? They were prepared to lay down permanent roots, expand their growing fudge business, expand their months of operation and employ more people. Why would the town not welcome this opportunity?
How can such a success story be summarily dismissed when the Train attraction has brought people from every province in Canada, nearly every state in the nation and also the U.K. to Port Elgin? Will new development ever match this tourist drawing power? Of the many people I’ve heard from, they all lean in the same direction as to the cause of this sad incident. Andy and Debbie Hess need our support. Mayor Charbonneau’s intervention would be welcomed. There are too many uncomfortable questions that need answers.
Wayne McGrath, Port Elgin