Concourse cuts extremely shortsighted

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Public outdoor recreation is a  privilege offering limitless possibilities for everything from athletic training to scenery and wildlife viewing.

I regularly take the opportunity to visit the beautiful 38-acre Bidgood Park, which I had the fortune of working with the Bidgood Family on creating. This park, which officially opened in October 2014, is one of the many features the City of St. John’s has deemed suitable for maintenance cuts. The garbage cans are already removed and the large investment will quickly grow over.

Trails and parks are no doubt expensive; rain washes out paths, structures freeze and crack, trees fall over, kids vandalize and garbage builds. However, the benefits of our built trail network infrastructure are immense. These include benefits to health (physical and mental), active transportation, tourism, foot-traffic commerce, stream bank stabilization, riparian river protection, flood control and increased property values, to name just a few. Other alternatives exist — specialized gyms and fitness centres are a dime a dozen — but public outdoor recreation is available for all age groups and income classes.

The decisions by the City of St. John’s to cut funding for the Grand Concourse are not related to budget constraints or property concerns. The city has lavishly thrown another $2.57 million at St. John’s Sports and Entertainment in this budget for the Convention Centre and the Ice Caps. Many people will never be fortunate enough to see the inside of these venues, while the trail network is fully accessible.

Also, the Grand Concourse is a non-profit partnership with no claim to any land, working as directed by members on behalf of members. Sure, the Grand Concourse Authority will defend its integrated network and organization, as it was built through unique, irreplaceable partnerships and meant to last. Private industry has admitted great interest in the opportunity to take over landscaping and maintenance services. The city has actively sought to move these services out of public hands and at the same time direct even more money towards far more expensive projects and operations with limited benefit to most taxpayers.

There was no need to cut funding, especially in the heavy-handed, poorly communicated way it was done. Funding support may ebb and flow, but sudden, drastic cuts to operations have no other purpose than to disenfranchise the Grand Concourse. This was incredibly shortsighted and unfortunate.

Shame on council and management for devaluing what their predecessors understood to be an absolute blessing and one of the greatest achievements this city has seen.

The Grand Concourse is an award-winning, collaborative partnership envied by cities everywhere. I know the authority’s crews are the most dedicated, capable and hard-working people, many of whom will now be laid off.

It takes decades to build the human resources, experience and capacity to efficiently manage a system like ours. I have no doubt the trails and parks will suffer, and that investments by Paul Johnson, the Bidgood Family and too many other generous donors will be squandered by the shortsighted, highly political decisions of our current municipal leaders.

The Grand Concourse is in jeopardy and I urge them to reconsider. I urge the city to mend its partnerships with the organization and its neighbours on behalf of the walkers, cyclists, the elderly, pet-owners and all other residents of the region who are going to lose wonderful opportunities to go outdoors.

Nick White

St. John’s

Organizations: Convention Centre, Grand Concourse Authority

Geographic location: Bidgood Park

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Recent comments

  • Alta guy
    January 29, 2016 - 19:52

    Interesting,with all the budget cuts,this will have an adverse effect on the general public,I terms of fitness and medical.this is the time to utilize the trail system as people were using these trails more so than ever,at a time when obesity has come a very personal matter for individuals,this was a true lifeline,as these trails were very accessible .now with the trails not groomed properly,it has become more of a menace and self destructed system.what was the real purpose to develop these in the first place, if we cannot find the financing to keep it in place,it has been another joke,so tell me Doc,is the cruise trip on again this year,maybe it is a wise idea to divert this money back into the concourse,so that everybody benefits ,not the selected few !

  • Dave
    January 29, 2016 - 18:47

    Beautifully said Nick, it's a real shame and an embarrassment to be led by officials with such incompetence and disrespect especially when we are the ones who put them in those positions to begin with and what do we get in return? A trip to the unemployment office because they want to take this work from us and give it to someone else (A.K.A public tender) and Im willing to bet its because other companies/organizations are saying " thats not fair we want a piece of the concourse pie boo hoo " and council are going along with it. So we the staff who will lose our jobs over this are also stabbed in the back. Thanks for that by the way. Sugar coat it what ever way you want with your mandates, policies what ever, does not take away from the fact that the unemployment rate will rise just a little more because of this when there is simply no need.

  • Angry at O'Keefe and Council
    January 29, 2016 - 17:39

    Does no one remember the very quick flip flop by council on restoring funding to the 'arts' community? All it took for that was a little demonstration outside City Hall, and presto...funding restored. What gives in this town? We need to demonstrate in huge numbers in front of City Hall and demand roll backs of the residential mil rate, as well as restoring the Grand Concourse to its proper status as a valuable community resource. We cannot continue to allow these clowns to dictate to us.

  • Abbigail
    January 29, 2016 - 13:41

    Your missing the context David. If the City had capped its taxes at last year's level given the economic downturn, if it had not spent $500K on a fence it didn't need to build, if it had not spent millions on a Victoria park makeover, if it had not built a silly skating rink that can rarely be used, if it didn't keep pumping millions into a hockey team most people can't afford to watch, had councillors not given themselves a raise, and a thousand other truly wasteful projects, then cutting back on trail maintenance might not get the reaction it did. When you look at the value to ordinary people of the big ticket items the city spends our money on and compare it with something like the walking trails, its a no brainer. Given our out of control health costs, Newfoundlanders are in desperate need of exercise. Many don't have money for expensive gyms and personal trainers. The trails are lowest common denominator venues for that exercise. It gives everyone a chance to do something healthy on a regular basis without breaking the bank. That's why they deserve support.

    • david
      January 29, 2016 - 15:32

      The place is bankrupt.

    • Jayne
      January 29, 2016 - 16:23 points are well made. Don't forget the $40 Million spent on the Recreation Complex in Wedgwood Park, still incomplete, I have to ask why so big and so costly for an off-the-beaten-track location, particularly when the Y is quite accessible 5 mins away. Council's intention to purchase land for a Fire Dept from Mr. Williams for and estimated value of $200,000 and acre, when it was acquired for one-tenth of that. Money contributed for a Timing Tower at the Lake, how much did that cost the City??? The Judges managed to do without one for 198 years and now we need one for a 1 day event??? Don't forget the Bannerman Park upgrades. The City may not be supplying the funding they were certainly providing the workers.....and the list goes on....Incompetence you bet...and that what we know about. David you just don't get it.

  • jerome
    January 29, 2016 - 13:40

    $2.5 million yearly expenditure on the convention center and Mile One, that we don't have. The council has spent a fortune on the new convention center, every where in Atlantic Canada the various convention centers are know as white elephants , just a cash drain on every community where they are to. With the national and provincial economies the way they are, will companies and governments be still willing to send people to conventions in far off lands, it is not a cheap trip to St. John's. At Mile One we subsidize a Millionaire. On the news last night was talk of replacing the Mews Center at a cost of $50 million, how many people use the Mews Center now, is this expenditure really necessary, what will be the actual cost per user. Plus they are already building a rec center in the Wedgewood and Virginia park area, how much more can we afford. It is great to have all these facilities, but at what cost and what is the actual cost per user. The Grand Concourse provides greater value per user than the convention center, Mile One or the new Mews Center combined. Value per user is what the city should look at, not catering to some special interest groups and the Grand Concourse is by far the greatest winner for city residents. O'Keefe is looking to leave a legacy, he will indeed , but not the one he wants to leave.

  • david
    January 29, 2016 - 10:15

    This issue simply amazes and astounds. The province is utterly and completely bankrupt, and people are still so totally oblivious that they're worried about where to walk their dog. Instead of the famous saying "straightening the deck chairs on the Titanic", this place is more "holding a lottery for tickets on the next crossing". Incredible.

    • Beetle Bailey
      January 29, 2016 - 14:44

      'utterly and completely bankrupt' but yet they increase the Mile One subsidy by some $700,000. 'Austerity for me but not for thee' is the problem here. If cuts need to be made, they need to be consistent, and not favour pet projects like unsustainable hockey teams.

    • david
      January 29, 2016 - 17:35

      Do you think you're arguing with me now? Now THAT'S oblivious.

  • been thinkin
    January 29, 2016 - 09:15

    Can somebody set up a website, blog whatever for us to report concourse changes and defeciencies so they are all catalogued

  • don
    January 29, 2016 - 08:36

    . The Grand Concourse was established to develop a system of trails in and around the city. This they did this through the generous support of the Johnson Family Foundation and from support from various levels of government who used the tax dollars collected from you, the public, and your employer, and this includes the landscape industry and the professionals that make their living there, to make the trail system we now have a fantastic addition to our liveable city. However the Grand concourse did not stop there. In short order they were completing a variety of landscape work, everything from mowing the grass around fire halls, to designing and building landscapes, work that should have been put to tender. Work that those professionals who have opened landscape and green industry,businesses, hired and trained their staff, purchased and maintain property in the city and yes paid tax back to all levels of goverment,( the same government that passed it right back to the Grand Concourse), never had a chance to even bid on. The mayor is correct, we have a landscape industry that can complete this work, meet the required standard and deliver good value. And in passing this work back to industry you support the growth of small business, increase employment, and yes increase the tax the city can collect. The Grand Concourse needs to stick to the reason it was established . The building and maintenance of our trail system . No one I think would have any issue with continued support from our tax dollars for this purpose.

    • steve nl
      January 29, 2016 - 09:59

      These sites are all part of the network and were brought forward by the city in my understanding. There have always been amenities and monuments on the trails. Winter grooming supports crews off-season. Having sites unified under one organization brings consistency to the network. I find it very difficult to believe that scattered for-profit landscapers can provide similar consistent services cheaper than a non-profit cooperative among a dozen members.

    • Ken Collis
      January 29, 2016 - 10:17

      So I guess it was you crowd that lobbied council to take grand concourse money and give it to you. How much did that cost?

  • Anna
    January 29, 2016 - 07:50

    I still can't comprehend what this council has done. There are very few sidewalks to walk on as they are so icy if they are even plowed. Not all of us want to walk indoors and many of us can't afford it or just don't want the trouble of getting in the car or on the bus to avail of these indoor walking tracks. We are the most obese population in Canada and instead of trying to help us this Council is doing everything it can to discourage people from going outside. They've ruined the harbor front for walking, and now they are doing everything they can do ruin everything else for us. I wish one of them would have the courage to go to the Public and tell us why they've made these choices and why they keep on giving more money to Mile One. The thing that still boggles my mind is our Mayor is famous for his walking so you would think he would be the last person pushing these cuts.

    • JEROME
      January 29, 2016 - 13:16

      The mayor doesn't use the trails or the sidewalk, he will always be seen walking Waterford Bridge road on the street.

  • picky
    January 29, 2016 - 06:45

    I wonder if City Hall ever heard about Zero-Based Budgeting ? Zero-based budgeting is an approach to planning and decision-making that reverses the working process of traditional budgeting. In traditional incremental budgeting, departmental managers justify only variances versus past years based on the assumption that the "baseline" is automatically approved. By contrast, in zero-based budgeting, every line item of the budget, rather than only the changes, must be approved. In simple terms, you start with a "blank" sheet of paper and you have to justify every dollar of your budget. Seems like the City's approach to budgeting is off the rails and makes no sense what so ever !!!