City of Windsor unveils riverfront streetcar ‘beacon’, more public consultation
WINDSOR, ONT. -- The western portion of Windsor’s riverfront will soon see some major development.
The city unveiled big plans Friday for the so-called “celestial beacon” along the city’s waterfront at the foot of Askin Avenue.
That’s the proposed site of the restored streetcar number 351, which was restored by RM Automotive at a budgeted cost of $750,000.
“Spaces like the celestial beacon, we envision will capture moments from the past and share them in the present and well into the future,” said Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens during a zoom media conference Friday afternoon, when the plans were detailed by city officials.
Dilkens, along with Parks and Recreation executive director Jan Wilson, detailed the extensive consultation process for the riverfront beacons, which began way back in 2000. That’s when council approved a new central riverfront implementation plan (CRIP).
That plan went back to the public in 2014 and was reaffirmed after another round of public open houses. Council approved the restoration of Streetcar 351 and in 2018, approved the Celestial Beacon site — again — after public consultation.
City council already budgeted $400,000 for project design and another $2 million for construction. Dilkens says by combining the streetcar 351 project with the Celestial Beacon site, the city will be eligible for a federal heritage grant of up to $3 million.
“We have very strong indications from Heritage Canada that this is a project that will receive very significant attention,” he said. “We would certainly be seeking the maximum amount to offset portions of costs of the project.”
While some critics believe the streetcar would be better housed elsewhere in the city, Brenda Weeks-Clarke believes the “slick” design is a “monstrous dimension” that could take away from Windsor’s historically and purposefully underdeveloped riverfront.
“I know my father (former mayor Bert Weeks) would be rolling in his grave to consider the extreme of that kind of defiance of the need to keep our waterfront clear and pristine, accessible to the public,” Weeks-Clarke said.
She’s concerned the project will destroy existing sight-lines of the Detroit skyline, cause for the unnecessary removal of coveted trees and contravenes the total mentality of the bylaw restricting development on the north side of Riverside Drive.
City officials today noted the design puts the majority of the structure “below-grade” and built into the embankment, keeping the views intact.
The site plans also call for electric vehicle charging stations, bike rentals, a special events space and new washroom facilities.
The grand concept for the beacon site, completed by Architecttura Inc., will be accompanied by another round of ‘expedited’ public consultation, according to the city. The consultation is now underway and will run for about a week and a half.
“We’ve cached a lot of the elements that we believe the community is looking for but there may be others and we want to hear from the community and get that feedback,” said Mayor Dilkens. “We’re all ears to listen to that to accept the feedback, and to try to tweak the project to make sure we haven’t forgotten anything.”
Weeks-Clarke believes residents spoke loud and clear against the city using the proposed site, concerns project opponents believe were ignored.
“It’s farcical that they’re doing a public consultation now when clearly they have this in plan, the wheels are in motion,” she said. “I feel like as a citizen of Windsor, they’re thumbing their nose at me.”
After the public consultation is complete, a report featuring feedback and costs will go to council on June 15 for final approval.
“As soon as we get the blessing and approval after our council report on the 15th, we will literally hit the ground running,” says the project coordinator, Wadah Al-Yassiri, who added the final design, pending council’s approval, will be complete in 2020.
Al-Yassiri noted the project will likely go out to tender over the winter and will be ready to kick off in the spring of 2021.
A public consultation survey is open unitl June 10 at www.surveymonkey.com/r/CelestialBeaconStreetcarProject.