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.