Brockville Recorder: Plenty of ideas for Brockville tunnel


Art is long, the saying goes, but life is short.

Members of Brockville’s arts community have no shortage of ideas for the next phase of the city’s railway tunnel restoration project, although a meeting on the plan Wednesday also included cautions and limitations.

The Brockville Railway Tunnel Committee and its consultants held a “stakeholders’ day” Wednesday, a daylong series of meetings in the main council chamber with different groups solicited for input on the tunnel restoration’s next phase.

Media were invited to a mid-afternoon session bringing together arts groups, the YMCA, the Brockville Farmers’ Market, the Brock Trail and the Downtown Brockville Business Improvement Area (DBIA).

Other sessions throughout the day included project donors, the Brockville and District Chamber of Commerce, the tourism advisory committee and city councillors and staff.

“Everyone’s got great opinions and that is what the architects need,” said city councillor David LeSueur, the railway committee chairman.

The committee is using a senior government grant to hire Mark Thompson Brandt Architect (MTBA) Associates Inc., of Ottawa, for $84,765, to develop concepts for the former railway lands at the north end of the historic railway tunnel.

The north-side lands represent the second phase in a longer-term project to restore Brockville’s historic railway tunnel, deemed Canada’s oldest.

The first phase, which is now underway, aims to rehabilitate and restore the tunnel itself and its north-portal gorge, on time for an official opening at the August 10-13 celebrations of Canada’s 150th anniversary.

The second phase involves redevelopment of the former Grand Trunk Railway/CN property west of the north-end gorge, a stretch of land the city now owns. That phase includes bus and car parking areas, public restrooms, a tour train arrivals and departures area and a tour train ticket office.

It could also include a replica railway roundhouse building that would provide a “multi-purpose community space” for events and an indoor farmers’ market in the cold months, a city report adds.

But the specifics of – and budget for – the second phase have yet to be determined. LeSueur hopes to have a strategic plan back from MTBA in September.

The city has so far committed $300,000 toward the tunnel project.

Lead architect Mark Thompson Brandt fielded different suggestions from local groups that ranged from the specific (the number of electrical outlets the farmers’ market would need) to the more general (a community space to be used as an affordable venue by multiple arts groups).

LeSueur said the plan is for the venue to generate revenue through such things as rentals.

“I don’t want this to cost taxpayers money,” he said.

That prompted a caution from Russ Disotell, of Culture Days, that there is only so much rental revenue to go around.

“I wonder if we’re just moving around the deck chairs,” said Disotell.

Other local venues, in particular churches, will lose revenue, he warned.

“If you centre all the rentals in one place, all those churches will be lining up at city council saying: ‘We need help,’” he added.

Pat Markovich, the chamber of commerce president, joined the meeting in her capacity as the head of Youth Opportunities in the Arts; she said the new venue would not compete with existing ones, but create new opportunities.

“This city is so culturally vibrant, I don’t think we’re going to run out of things,” said Markovich.

Among other non-arts uses, DBIA executive director Meg Plooy said the second phase of the project will provide a critical link from the downtown area to points north, while Anna Hudson, of the YMCA of Brockville and Area, said the planned green space around the north gorge development could be valuable for healthy activity.

Brandt told the group he was pleased with the “diversity” of ideas, but stressed the importance of prioritizing to determine what could fit in the three-acre space.

The key will be building a facility different groups can use at different times, added Brandt.

“We really have that opportunity to build on top of each other,” he said.

“Let’s use cultural pursuits in Brockville to enliven this place that’s founded on the essence of what Brockville is.”


Article by: Ronald Zajac

Original article link available HERE