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Guest Editorial – Making Guelph a Better Place

I love it when a plan comes together. And I love it even more when several plans come together – and that’s what’s happening in Guelph right now. We are poised to take a big step in building our collective prosperity through multiple intensification projects in the city centre.
By making better use of underperforming pockets of city-owned property, we will attract private and institutional investment, grow our economic output, boost assessment value and realize a tax windfall to support projects city-wide. As we have all but reached the limit of suburban residential growth to help pay for the services we need and want, it makes sense to build up, and realize a better use of, the core.
Intensification of urban centres is a proven success, something so tried-and-true that they’ve even done it in Kitchener. Here is just one result: Between 2003 and 2012 that city has invested $97.8 million, and partner investments have reached $232.9 million, representing $2.38 in additional funding by partners per $1 spent by the city. The private sector has seen the demographic writing on the wall: people want to live and work where there is transit, arts and culture, restaurants, services and shops all in one walkable place. And they are building it. The assessment growth in Kitchener’s downtown, and commensurate tax revenue, adds up to a massive return on that investment. And similar projects have happened, and are happening, in London, St. Catharines, Brantford, Waterloo, Windsor and Kingston.
So what will it look like here? Well, as was reported in Tuesday’s Trib, the city’s Downtown Renewal Office is bringing together a group of investment opportunities in the city centre.  What’s being called for is a comprehensive strategy to put the Downtown Secondary Plan into operation, and to leverage the interconnectivity of it all. There is potential for a new campus of Conestoga College, a presence for U of G and the Central Student Association, a YMCA and a library, and residential development on top of it all. These are complementary uses that reinforce and support each other while bringing great new offerings to the public at large.
Add to that a plan to improve the parking inventory, make better use of the streets and sidewalks, and tap into the potential of district energy, and it really adds up to a fantastic opportunity to expand our economic base.
Post-secondary institutions have been especially successful in transforming historic downtowns across Ontario. And it’s easy to see why: they bring well-paying jobs, they fill the streets with people who support food and retail offerings, and they make good use of bike, transit and pedestrian infrastructure. Which is why cities without a campus have brought them in, and cities with a campus on the outskirts have brought parts of them (departments, schools) into the centre.
Guelph city council is being asked to come to the table and make a commitment that private and institutional investors can rely on, that they can in a very real way take to the bank. We need to show we are ready to build our city, to go to the province and the federal government with our plan, to be ready when there are opportunities to tap into infrastructure investment that look to be coming down the pike.
The time for this is now. The plans are aligned, the economic indications are favourable. We have the room to grow, and diversify, our economy – and to generate revenues for civic services. Intensification adds up to good news for us all.
Marty Williams is executive director of the Downtown Guelph Business Association

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