Restoring downtown to its past glory

Dave Bartlett
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St. John’s mayor talks up city’s future at Rotary Club

St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe took to the podium on Thursday afternoon during the Rotary Club of St. John’s weekly luncheon at the Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland, giving the city’s perspective on the economy. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe told the Rotary Club of St. John’s Thursday he didn’t want to give the same state of the city speech the mayor usually gives to the club each year.

Instead of talking about all the facts and figures which illustrate how the city’s economy did in 2011 and “watch everyone’s eyes glaze over,” he wanted to talk about the past and the future.

The mayor first talked about Water Street in the 1950s, a time most in the room could remember.

“You grew up at that time when the centre of the universe ... was Water Street and everything happened on Water Street,” O’Keefe said. “All the stores were on Water Street. All the people were on Water Street.”

He said after the Avalon Mall and Churchill Square opened, the downtown started to wither. But O’Keefe said city council hopes Water Street will be the hub of the city again within the next 10 years.

He then showed a video the city produced for the launch of its economic road map back in November, which plots how the city plans to diversify and grow economically over the next decade.

“Water Street will be transformed. The downtown will be transformed. All of those empty flats you see above Water Street will be occupied by people,” said O’Keefe.

“They will live, work, play, have families in the downtown.”

He said the city will work with both the business and arts community towards a common objective.

“We are going to carry the city forward into 2021 in fine style,” said the mayor.

But he didn’t only talk about growth in the downtown. O’Keefe also brought up the city’s application to the province to allow development above the 190 contour.

A major development —  worth $5 billion over a 15- or 20-year period — is dependent on the province changing legislation to allow development above the 190 elevation.

O’Keefe referred to the project  as “Dannyville,” as former premier Danny Williams is behind the proposed development, which would stretch from the Glendenning Golf course out to Cochrane Pond.

Surprisingly, O’Keefe made limited comments about a new financial arrangement between the province and municipalities, something he’s been championing since last fall.

But he did bring the issue up, saying the province has to respect municipalities as a legitimate level of government.

O’Keefe also said a new arrangement with the province has to improve long-term, stable funding for all towns and cities. He also said the province uses municipal services without paying for them, and that must change for the city to realize its vision.

The mayor did show a couple of slides showing the current rate of economic growth.

“Everything is up. Our retail sales, up. Employment, up. ... Personal income is up dramatically,” he said, before noting unemployment is down to its lowest level in 15 years.

“The city  is doing very well ... in terms of the economy,” O’Keefe added.

Organizations: Rotary Club

Geographic location: Water Street

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Recent comments

  • Don Ash
    January 27, 2012 - 19:04

    The city could begin by moving the New Years Eve fireworks back to the harbour. St. John's is a port city and it should be the focal point of such festivities

  • sealcove
    January 27, 2012 - 15:22

    Don,t be afraid of the future downtown need condos and apt building, One building could bring in a lot of tax dollars

  • Bennett
    January 27, 2012 - 14:55

    Who wants to raise a family in the downtown area? It is not 1950 anymore. Modern office and retail space will help to revitalize downrown. Already we have some great dining, the convention center is being expanded, more hotels are in the works if only this council approves same, so to those worried about living in the shadows and raising a family move to an area that has parks, recreation facilities etc. St. John's has a lot of those areas mto offer.

  • don shears
    January 27, 2012 - 14:39

    I am very interested in these terms mentioned by the Mayor, 190 elevation and 190 contour. I lived in /st Johns for 25 years until 1996 and never heard the terms

  • Foghorn Leghorn
    January 27, 2012 - 13:26

    I think that high rise buildings in the downtown area would be fantastic. It would give you a better view of all of the cruise ships that dock in the harbour. Always a plus side to everything!

  • political campaign
    January 27, 2012 - 11:57

    must be an election next year. o'keefe is acting like he is doing something.

  • John
    January 27, 2012 - 11:25

    Can someone with some common sense and logic please for the love of god tell us why any retailer would want to go DT? I am not saying that to be rude but just practical. There was a local mom and pop shop owner on the CBC news the other evening, stating how slow business has been recently? So how in the H-E-L-L will other business(s) trive in DT?

  • Carol Ann Rogers
    January 27, 2012 - 09:31

    The latest development proposal, a 12 story hotel, will overshadow the neighbourhood, leaving residents living in an ally way. Who will buy a house in an ally? What quality of life will these people enjoy? They already have to endure strip club posters on every pole. The street people will soon take up the sheltered ally way created by the hotel. The only hub of activity will be street people and prostitutes plying their trade. Take off the rose coloured glasses Mr. O'keef.

  • BR
    January 27, 2012 - 09:09

    I grew up downtown but I would not want to go back there. There is no parking. Houses cost too much. The houses are old. There are too many drug dealers. There is George St. What could O'keefe possibly put there to bring me back?? Would he live there?? Families will not live there. However I can see young single people living there for the night life or working in the office buildings. P.S. restrict the buildings to 5-6 stories.

  • joe
    January 27, 2012 - 09:08

    Allowing development above the 190 elevation for Danny William's project is logical. If allowing that for Dannyville, does it open the floodgates for water street ? O'Keefe says Water Street will be transformed- people will be living and working downtown. Exactly how will it be transformed ? Just hope that city hall never gets nimrods who believe that everything south of Lemarchant Road should be bulldozed and go MODERN. Develop the downtown historically and make it a world place of interest- the oldest city in North America unless you think large lumps of concrete look beautiful. Danny Williams project shows vision and logic. Are you surprised ? Maybe city hall could get free consulting from him- I'm sure he would be willing.

  • whattosay
    January 27, 2012 - 08:51

    It would be great to see the downtown revived in such a manner. Other cities across the country have wonderfully developed downtown areas with shopping opportunities for many different people. I've visited Victoria and one of my favorite things to do is go downtown to shop and walk along the waterfront; in the summertime the place is filled with tourists. I've often compared St. John's to Victoria and if that were to happen here I'd certainly spend more time downtown as opposed to the mall. My only concern is where people are expected to park? As it is now, parking spots are few and far between and I personally avoid downtown except for the occasional weekend breakfast because I'd rather not spend 30 minutes circling around looking for a parking spot. Great idea, but I hope that parking is to be considered in great detail when enacting this plan.

  • anonymous
    January 27, 2012 - 08:36

    With interest rates in housing going up in St. John's, this will drive everybody out of water street and the city all together.... I say the Mayors words are a lode of crock.

  • Chris LeDrew
    January 27, 2012 - 08:31

    Is he off his head? Who in their right mind would raise a family down on water or duckworth street. From the beggars scaring the you know what out of people (one jumped at my 6 year old last summer), to the open sewer called George Street and the half naked posters for the strip clubs it will be a long while before anyone goes there to live!