Waterfront the next focus, mayor tells chamber
Build Belleville – The Waterfront Edition could be the next big thing for the city moving forward, the mayor told a packed house of business leaders, politicians and other city residents Wednesday morning.
Mayor Taso Christopher told the Belleville Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting at the Travelodge that a focus on the city’s waterfront – along both the Bay of Quinte and the Moira River – will likely be the vision for the city moving forward.
He said council will be engaging in long range planning at a retreat next month where he expects to start drilling down to details on how the city can build and develop its waterfront.
“It’s something we have addressed and recognized and we now need to move forward on,” he said to almost 150 people. “But we need partnerships, we need relationships in order to do that.
“We have an exciting future ahead of us.”
After the meeting Christopher was short on specific details about what could be done on the waterfront, stressing the need for partnerships and business relationships to move the area forward.
“Build Belleville has been a great vehicle and waterfront is no different,” he said. “Waterfront has to have water services and wastewater services and transit services.
“We have all that footprint so we have to partner with the commercial world to bring those waterfront developments.”
Christopher noted council, during long term planning two years ago, embraced the idea that the next place for development and growth within the city had to be the waterfront.
He noted the Moira River is a major natural feature that runs through the city while the bay already attracts people for events like the Walleye Derby and the upcoming Berkley B1 fishing championship.
“We have been hitting a grand slam with infrastructure projects,” he said. “Now we have to take our energies to the waterfront and work with the private sector and the commerce sector to partner with us to get some developments down there.”
Much of Christopher’s presentation to the chamber focussed on what the city has been doing and the positive results that have resulted.
He ran through the list of Build Belleville projects already completed and noted several projects coming up in 2017 including Phase 3 of downtown redevelopment and multi-use trails in the north east industrial park, as well as a new downtown foot bridge and the revamping of Yardmen Arena.
He noted that the city has seen significant population growth in recent years – 2.6 per cent in the last census – as well as major residential and commercial construction projects.
He added that the city has led Ontario in employment recently, with last month’s unemployment rate at 5.2 per cent.
“The last two months we have had the lowest unemployment rate in Ontario,” he said. “For municipal leaders this is what it is all about – jobs, jobs, jobs.
“Now we have a new challenge, in terms of finding skilled people for our industrial partners. We are working with our partners on innovative programs to meet our labour needs.”
The mayor also noted recent provincial and national coverage of Belleville as an immigration location of choice, the continued success of the physician recruitment program and the red hot real estate market.
In response to a question after his speech, Christopher acknowledged that the city still had a long way to go on accessibility issues, but it was taking steps in the right direction.
“They are baby steps right now,” he said. “We are doing what we can but we know we can do better and we are working on that. It’s a challenge we are willing to take on.
“If you look at the new foyer at City Hall, that was totally accessibility driven. Also our new sidewalks and roads, and transit are all committed to greater accessibility moving forward.”
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