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A local business and downtown building owner's perspective on Sykes development

By John Clark

It is very hard to get my opinion across to you in a few paragraphs and harder still in conversation because this is a subject I have thought about for close to 40 years. In the late seventies I lived in the Niagara peninsula and at that time the main street of Niagara on the Lake was vacated. No stores were open and no one was to be seen unless you saw your own reflection in a window. Collectively the citizens and the council saw the potential of the town and shared the vision that if the main street could be restored Niagara on the Lake could be viable. It worked. By bringing back heritage buildings to their former glory and by adding new construction that fit the era of the old Niagara on the Lake has stores that do well, and streets that are full of people.

I have thought for decades that other small towns could prosper by doing this. I think Meaford has the potential to prosper better than most. We have a nicer harbor than Niagara on the Lake. We have the potential for year round tourism. I found it hard to get this concept across to anyone, so my wife and I invested heavily in the main street of Meaford so that we could show by example. We thought it had worked. Many people complimented us on our new store front. We thought we could start a trend. Then all of a sudden it seems the whole community wanted the heritage buildings razed to the ground; the faster the better.

Let me be succinct by using point form:

The Heritage buildings can be restored: Heritage buildings much older than these have been restored all over the world. In Britain there are buildings made of brick that are two and three times as old as these that have been restored. Steel frames can be added inside. And the council has the power to push for this.

The new buildings will never be as richly designed and attractive as what's there: The rationale for tearing down the buildings is to save money. The investor has acknowledged this, and he will build as economically as possible. Recreating something as unique and attractive as the current buildings is highly unlikely.

To succeed, Meaford needs a unique downtown: Chain Stores, Franchises and Box stores will not locate in Meaford. The population isnít large enough to attract that type of investment. The population that is here goes elsewhere for those services. Meaford and small towns like it can only survive by having independently owned and operated stores that sell unique items. And we need the tourist to stop here.

Tourists will not stop for the same old same old: Many tourists live in suburbia, and they want to stop in small towns that look like they would be fun to explore. They donít want more suburbia. And we cannot compete directly with suburbia. We have to offer something different.

We need to become a destination for Tourists: Niagara on the Lake did that. It is an out of the way place at the end of the line. We want people to come here because of what we have and what we are. At present we only get tourists that are on their way somewhere else. If you tear down our heritage buildings tourists wonít stop here under any circumstance.

Meaford can have a bright future with a restored and revitalized main street, a place that tourists will want to come to and stop. Meaford has no future by destroying everything. Why did we save the old town hall at the expense of the taxpayer if we are going to destroy the heritage buildings near it? And why oh why did anyone care about saving the apple and not the whole street?
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