By Dan Rankin
Bright (or rather, dim) and early Tuesday morning, business people and dignitaries from St. Marys and the surrounding area gathered at the PRC Community Centre for the annual St. Marys Mayor’s Breakfast, presented by Stratford and District Chamber of Commerce.
It was Mayor Al Strathdee’s first time at the head of the event, and he began by saying he was pleased with the turnout, considering the events that had kept up many of the attendees the night before, including the historic federal election and the Toronto Blue Jays’ ALCS Game 3 victory.
From there, he moved on to describe the priorities and accomplishments of St. Marys Town Council, and their plans for the year ahead. The theme of his speech, and of the two speakers that followed, Sue Griffiths, of Village Craft & Candle, and Stew Cardiff, of Shepherd Gourmet Dairy, was “the unstoppable entrepreneur,” and how St. Marys is and has been a home to many great entrepreneurs.
Council’s and his role is to support business and focus on infrastructure, Strathdee said.
“Infrastructure is an area that we’ve fallen behind in, and we need to focus on catching up on our infrastructure deficit,” he said.
To that end, in the new year St. Marys residents can look forward to the first major reconstruction of downtown since the early 1970s. “We’ve currently budgeted $1.2 million for this project, and it will involve going from Peel Street, all the way to the Victoria Bridge,” he said. “The Victoria Bridge’s membrane has been exposed, and the bridge needs some work. It’s important we maintain our heritage structures so this is something this council has decided to focus on.”
But bridgework needed around the town extends past Victoria Bridge. “Council held a public meeting this past year and with the public consultation, we made the decision to save our historic Green Bridge,” he said. “It will be going up for tender soon and it is our hope the life of the Green Bridge will be for the foreseeable future.”
Strathdee noted, while they were unsuccessful in receiving federal funding for work on the Green Bridge, they have also applied for provincial grant. “Randy, maybe you can help us out with that,” Strathdee said, indicating the local MPP who was seated nearby.
“We also have to realize that the life span of the Wellington Street Bridge could be less than five years,” he said. “So, it is our hope that after we focus on the downtown and the Green Bridge, we’ll focus on the Wellington Street Bridge.”
Under the Town’s official plan, the Wellington Street Bridge remains the main artery to the north and will be crucial for development in the north, he added.
Further work taking place in the Town’s north will hopefully involve the reconstruction of Emily Street and the creation of a “temporary road across from Glass Street to Emily” so “the town can see development in the north and the town can move forward,” the Mayor said, noting there is a proposal to develop several hundred lots in that neighbourhood.
Finally, Strathdee also brought up an issue that he said has always irritated him: “the cost of policing.”
“Although the provincial government has reacted somewhat and the cost of police is getting cheaper, there is a new model for municipalities, but it remains to be seen,” Strathdee said. “We’re not seeing efficiencies and, in my opinion, St. Marys is paying too much for policing on an ongoing basis. We continue to push the OPP and look for value.”
During her speech, Griffiths called her retail store and candle-making supply warehouse on Queen Street “a passion that turned into a business.” She also commented on her love for the lack of traffic jams in and around St. Marys, which her clients from around the region also appreciate, and the support she’s received from other downtown business owners.
Cardiff said the changes he’s seen taking place here in town in a short period of town have been “astounding.”
“St. Marys is open for business,” he said. “The team Al and council have compiled and continue to attract to the town are eager and want to find ways to do business.”