Month: January 2016

Is Guelph’s Sleeman Center Wasting it’s Potential

Courtesy Guelph Mercury | January 26, 2016
By James Campbell-Prager

Every year, London’s Budweiser Gardens opens its doors over 200 times to host everything from OHL hockey to the Royal Marine Band to tapings of auditions for “So You Think Can Dance.” Within the next few months Kingston’s K-Rock Centre will host the Frontenacs, a Star Trek tribute concert, and the band Death Cab for Cutie. Municipalities all over Southern Ontario enjoy the pleasures of these multi-purpose performance spaces, and the benefits are clear: not only does the city-as-landlord reap the financial rewards of ticket sales, but the city-as-society gains a communal centre, an indoor, well-furbished, well-equipped space in which citizens can come together not merely for sport, but for music, art, and spectacle – for, in other words, culture.

Every year Guelph’s Sleeman Centre opens its doors about 35 times for OHL games. The other 300-odd days are largely taken-up by private events such as hockey, skating, and sometimes hockey – give or take a Hillside Inside. I’m speaking hyperbolically, but the contrast between Budweiser and Sleeman could not be starker. The city operates the Sleeman Centre as though it were a village arena, an appalling waste of a facility that seats almost five thousand people. It was poor ticket-sales that forced the Centre’s original owners to pass it along to the city in 2005, yet the city has done nothing to diversify Sleeman’s event calendar in the decade since. Its revenue still comes from ice sports, and almost exclusively ice sports.

What would it take to change this? Guelph may not be as big or wealthy as, say, London, but if we cannot ape London’s size there’s no reason we cannot emulate its style. The big infrastructure is already in place – the Centre has four walls, a ceiling, and plenty of seats – what is lacking is the smaller infrastructure. The Centre needs plug-and-play architecture for visiting talent: a decent lighting rig, a proper sound-system, a technical set-up to stop an incoming performer from having to haul a small theatre with them just to play a gig. Acquiring this will require two things: money and political will.

Marty Williams, executive director of the Downtown Guelph Business Association, does not think that money would be too great a hurdle. An investment of $250,000, he says, could bring in “potentially millions of dollars in revenue.” Williams believes that the Budweiser Gardens is good example of a similar investment that made-good, for London is using the draw of the Gardens to fuel business in its downtown core.

It’s a view that Ward 1 Coun. Dan Gibson shares. “Look to Oshawa,” he says, where the General Motors Centre is creating a boom in hotels and shopping centres. Thousands come to the GMC for a show, but stay for the amenities Oshawa has to offer. While the redevelopment of Baker Street may currently hold the attention of council, Gibson believes that for a “fraction of the investment” council could spend on Baker Street, Guelph could make the Sleeman Centre “the iconic, downtown destination of our City.”

It’s reasonable point, and with an economic engine like that enriching the City of Guelph’s coffers, more expensive and extensive redevelopment (such as Baker Street or St. George’s Square) might become more fiscally palatable, not to mention sustainable. After all, there’s little point to rebuilding the downtown if nothing is going to draw people there.

The City of Guelph is very cagey as to whether or not the Sleeman Centre is solvent. I suspect that in good hockey years the Centre breaks-even while in bad years it hemorrhages money. A city asset does not have to be profitable, but it should have more stable finances than the capricious whims of the sporting gods.

I beg council to set aside dreams of a Baker Street Eden and focus on something achievable now: for a few hundred grand and a couple months work, Guelph too could be visited by Death Cab for Cutie. At the very least, this town deserves better than an over-sized arena that drains city coffers every time the Storm’s shots go wide of the net.


Owens Corning Site Specific Standard Application to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change

As a Ward 1 resident living in Guelph’s east end I have (over the past year) shared some of the concerns related to the Owens Corning Site Specific Standard application to the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC). In terms of my knowledge of this Provincial process, this is what I have learned and I am happy to share with others.

imagePhoto Courtesy | Guelph Mercury Continue reading

Welcome to Guelph, Canada’s Jobs Powerhouse

Courtesy: Globe and Mail | Michael Babad

January 11, 2016

Welcome to Guelph

The folks at the Vienna Restaurant in downtown Guelph, Ont., were too to busy to talk to me when I phoned around brunch time yesterday to get some information about the diner, asking me nicely to call back later.

I could tell from the background noise alone.

But that told me a lot about what I already suspected were the good times in this small city about an hour away from Toronto, depending on how fast you drive.

It’s a cute city, crime is low and there are a lot of university kids. And, notably, it leads the country on the jobs front.

Guelph has generally had lower unemployment. But a rejigged ranking of Canadian cities by BMO Nesbitt Burns puts it in top spot, with jobs growth of more than 9 per cent in December compared with a year earlier, an employment rate of 72 per cent that’s the best in the country, and a jobless level that is among the lowest and now down almost a full percentage point from late 2014.

“Guelph tops the list with robust job growth, population inflows, a puny 4.2-per-cent jobless rate and the highest share of the population that is working,” BMO senior economist Robert Kavcic noted as he released the rankings after Statistics Canada’s latest labour market report on Friday.

As The Globe and Mail’s Rachelle Younglai reports, that national report showed Canada churned out almost 23,000 new jobs last month, though unemployment held firm at an uncomfortably high 7.1 per cent.

Ontario gained about 35,000 jobs, and its unemployment rate eased to 6.7 per cent. Which brings us back to Guelph, pop. 121,688 at the last official census count a few years ago.

Mr. Kavcic believes Guelph is benefiting from “broadening growth” outside the Greater Toronto Area, as are other nearby communities.

“Plus, they have a more stable and diverse job base (university, health care, etc.) than some others further south/west.”

Guelph’s economy is dependent on no one thing, unlike Oshawa and Windsor where the auto industry rules, though manufacturing has a dominant presence.

The city is also big in life sciences, biotechnology and agriculture-related industries, with a big university presence, boosted by the Guelph-Wellington Business Enterprise Centre and Innovation Guelph.

“I really want to embrace the entrepreneurial spirit,” Mayor Cam Guthrie said in an interview.

The young mayor, who has been in the position since 2014, sells his city well, citing not just the business opportunities, the land available, the five-year transformation of downtown, but also what new businesses are looking for in terms of the feel, from arts festivals to cafés to music “spilling onto the streets.”

Mr. Guthrie – you can call him “Mayor Cam” but please not “Your Worship” – said he sells businesses not only on the amenities you’d find in big cities, but also on “that small-town community feel and community spirit that is just difficult to find anywhere else.”

Major private employers in the city include auto-parts maker Linamar, The Co-operators insurance group and RWDI, a wind and environmental engineering firm headquartered in Guelph that Mr. Guthrie said is looking to double its work force.

The mayor and his council are juggling a lot: Among other things, there’s a 200-acre business park under development, with the first phase already serviced.

And along with the efforts of the Guelph economic development department, there’s a business retention team aimed at helping existing employers expand.

They sell diversification, and there’s a new tourism strategy to focus on just a couple of areas that the stakeholders believe they’re good at.

Guelph’s official plan projects 45,000 to 50,000 more people by 2031, and there’s now construction under way to house an estimated 9,000 in the downtown core, where it’s important to work and live.

From the banker to the butcher, as Mr. Guthrie put it.

And the folks at the quaint Vienna, which has been around in various forms for about a century, offers bottomless coffee, buys locally and is home to “the famous Vienna breakfast.” And the mayor dined there just last Friday.

You’d know the type of place as soon as you saw it.

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