AMHERST – A group of downtown business representatives is concerned with the town’s decision to build a new police station on the site of the former Royal Canadian Legion on Princess Street.
The group - which includes Mark Casey from CIBC Wood Gundy, Ron Furlong from Advantage New Homes, Susan McIsaac from McIsaac Darragh Chartered Accountants, David McNairn from Hicks LeMoine and Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin from Damaris Spa and Wellness Centre and Mannasseh Local Food – said it has met with Amherst Mayor Robert Small and town council but doesn’t feel their concerns are being taken seriously.
After considering a retrofit of the former town hall on Ratchford Street for the police department, the town decided in the spring to move ahead with building a new facility on the corner of Havelock and Princess streets.
The town purchased the property from a Halifax developer in December 2012 to add to its land bank for future development. The legion building was demolished in March 2013.
The group says it has two concerns with the police project.
“The first issue is the effect the building will have on public parking in the centre of the downtown. The town has confirmed that when the new police station is built all public parking from the Bell-Aliant building to the edge of Havelock Street will be gone,” McNairn, the group’s spokesman, said. “This will displace approximately 60 vehicles on any given day. Those 60 vehicles belong to the customers and the employees of a host of downtown businesses and government offices.”
McNairn said the town’s response has been there’s plenty of public parking in other locations downtown such as behind the movie theatre, behind the Dominion Public Building, the lot close to Dayle’s Department Store and the lot outside the former Foodland facility.
“The down doesn’t seem to agree that the loss of this central parking lot will have any effect on downtown businesses. They don’t see that when consumers are deciding whether to buy at Walmart versus a small business downtown that being able to park a convenient distance from the store may actually make a difference in shopping habits,” McNairn said. “They don’t seem to understand many downtown businesses are just getting by each month with the slimmest of margins and that many decision making them less competitive may mean the difference between staying open and closing the doors.”
McNairn said the group feels the second issue is the lack of consultation regarding selecting a site for the police department. The group, he added, is concerned the town failed to talk to area business owners or the Downtown Business Advisory Committee.
“We understand in certain circumstances it would be ill-advised to make a public announcement or consult with the business community as this might tend to drive the purchase price upwards, but in this case the site in question is already owned by the town so there was no reason not to consult with the business advisory committee at a minimum.”
The group, McNairn said, feels the Ivany Report calls on government and the private sector to work together to grow the economy. He said consultations on issues such as this needs to happen before council makes decisions that will impact the business community.
“If we truly want to have a vibrant downtown in Amherst then we need to work together to make decisions that strengthen our downtown core rather than weaken it,” McNairn said.
Mayor Robert Small said he and council met with the business representatives and the subject was brought up at a business advisory committee meeting.
“We have asked the business advisory committee and town staff to evaluate the parking situation and bring back some recommendations on how we can proceed,” the mayor said later.
The mayor said the Downtown Action Strategy, completed after the 2008 municipal election, said there is sufficient parking in the downtown as well as room for business growth in the area. He said the town wants to work with the business community to find a workable solution.
The town has been considering a permanent home for the police department since before the 2012 downtown fire displaced the department from its Victoria Street quarters. The department is presently located above the Four Fathers Memorial Library on Acadia Street.
A 2012 study by consultant John Pepper recommended building a new facility as opposed to retrofitting the former town hall. While the town was at first resistant to building a new facility, it agreed in the spring to call for requests for proposals for a new building.