SUMMERSIDE – The residents of Summerside got their first look at a sweeping new vision for their waterfront last night.
The initiative, spearheaded by the Summerside Port Corporation, was designed to come up with a concept plan of what Summerside could look like in 25 to 35 years. It’s a process that has been in the works for nearly a year.
More than 100 people gathered at the Loyalist Country Inn to see the plans, prepared by Ekistics Planning & Design of Halifax.
“What we want to do is start off with an ambitious plan – but it also needs to be realistic. So we’re looking at something that’s far-reaching and visionary, but yet practical enough to see it realized,” said Rob LeBlanc, with Ekistics, who gave the presentation with Arnold Croken, general manager of the port corporation.
There was certainly a lot for them to talk about.
Presented at the meeting where ideas such as:
Closing a section of Spring Street to create a pedestrian/bike mall full of shops.
Building a municipal parking garage onto the back of the Holman Building, which would allow for current parking lots to be redeveloped.
At least one secondary marina, plus new small boat docks.
A completely overhauled Holland College campus.
Reclaiming land for a 10,000-person capacity park and amphitheater.
Condos, lots of them and a commitment to keep the waterfront public in perpetuity.
There was a lot of ground covered.
Generally, the crowd seemed to like what it heard. If anyone had any negative comments they didn’t voice them during the question/comment time at the end of the presentation.
In fact, the people who spoke with the Journal Pioneer were excited.
Daniela Hueschling moved to Summerside from Charlottetown about seven years ago. She said she was very impressed by the presentation.
“I love it. I’d like to see it started soon," she said.
I’ve always thought Summerside had great potential, a little gem on the sea, and this is exactly what I’d envisioned – I hope they’ll see it through.”
Brian McArville agreed.
“I think it’s an excellent vision for the next number of years for the city of Summerside,” said McArville.
“I’m not going to be around to see it, but I like seeing this vision. I think it’s more than I’ve seen in the last number of years. This is a start.”
Mayor Basil Stewart also said he likes what he saw as a first step, but said such a project would take a great deal of time and careful planning.
“We’re living in a changing world – we’re working to try and get something kicked-off and it’s going to take a while,” he said.
“But we have to be innovative to try and push the city forward and get some growth and jobs, something that will attract young people as well as people of other ages.”
Jonathan Greenan, president of the Greater Summerside and Area Chamber of Commerce, also expressed his appreciation.
“It’s certainly ambitious – if even a fraction of that comes to fruition it would be a positive thing for the City of Summerside,” he said.
But he also had one major concern, one that was raised by others at the meeting as well.
“Where are the people going to come from to fill this development?” he asked.
“I think we need to have opportunities for people to come here before we have this kind of grand infrastructure to house them. The “Field of Dreams” ‘build it and they will come’ philosophy doesn’t always work.”
In conclusion, Croken told the crowd that all the ideas presented were still just conceptual, with nothing written in stone.
However, he said, over the coming months the port corporation would be working closely with the other non-governmental organizations in the downtown, as well as with the city government, to come up with a secondary plan for the waterfront.
This was only the first step on a long road, he said.
“Probably the easiest part is done. This is simply a vision of what the community could look like. We know (the plan) is going to change. It may change entirely, it may change in part, but what this does highlight is the opportunities that we have in Summerside.”
A concept drawing of what Summerside’s downtown waterfront could look like in 25 years. Image from Ekistics Planning & Design.