One of the items at last week's meeting was a proposal from the Anavets to develop the space at the southeast corner of 11th Street and Central Avenue. This spot, which has been vacant for several years since a fire destroyed the building on the site, has been used for a number of things in the intervening years - a hot dog stand, an ice cream stand, and the occasional barbecue. For the last several years, it's been unused and unmaintained.
It belongs to the city. A few years ago, we had a couple of people show interest in developing the lot, but unfortunately the selected bidder never followed through with his proposal, and there's been no interest since, although I'm not sure if we've put much effort into advertising the opportunity.
Enter the Anavets, who are thinking about putting in a funding request to the federal government for a special projects grant to develop a park to honour veterans in the space. I'm not sure how much of a grant they are requesting, but they have suggested that the city could donate the land, valued at $42,000.
It's always difficult to be critical of these proposals - parks are positive things, veterans deserve to be honoured, we need more ideas about how to beautify the downtown - all of these factors can make it difficult to speak up about the potential downside of such proposals. But that makes it all the more important to do so at an early stage.
To start with, we already have a park to honour veterans downtown. It's right in front of City Hall, and it's why that area is called Memorial Square. I think that it could use some improvements, but to me it makes more sense to coordinate efforts and to focus on improving this area, which could include adding whatever elements the Anavets are proposing. The benches that were removed from around the fountain a few years ago, at the time the western premiers were meeting in the city (presumably so that they wouldn't have to look out on people using the area) are still in the City Yards, and could be reinstalled. The idea of having additional flagstaffs so that flags could be lowered at the association's discretion could certainly be accommodated within this space.
Parks are costly to maintain. I only have to give the example of the difficulty that we have in maintaining Kinsmen Park to demonstrate that. And while I'm sure that the Anavets have the best of intentions to take care of their proposed park, I know that it can be difficult to keep up the level of maintenance required when you rely on volunteer help.
The city cannot afford to give away land. It sets a dangerous precedent, and we have to remember that we are only the stewards of city assets, not the owners. Far better if this land is redeveloped as a business that would generate taxes, than left as an open green space that, unfortunately, is likely to become a repository for garbage and needles.
I appreciate the interest of the Anavets in increasing our awareness of the importance of honouring our veterans. However, I would rather see our efforts concentrated on improving the space and amenities that are currently dedicated for that purpose, and working on increasing viable business opportunities where it makes sense.
"Parks are idealizations of nature, but nature in fact is not a condition of the ideal." - Robert Smithson