Volume 93, Issue 19

Thursday, September 30, 1999

bandwagon


CAMPUS AND CULTURE

Transforming Talbot block

Transforming Talbot block




©Becky Somerville/Gazette
CLOSING TIME. A sight not uncommon to the downtown core. London's city council is on a mission to revitalize the city, starting with an arena/entertainment complex.


By Clare Elias
Gazette Staff

In an effort to transform downtown London into a more profitable and culturally diverse community, London's city council has set its eyes on the corner of Talbot and King Streets to aid the metamorphosis.

This site has recently been voted by council as the preferred location for an arena/entertainment complex, which is scheduled for completion in September 2001. The Talbot block, currently owned by realtor Cambridge Leaseholds, will respond to council's offer on Oct. 18, said Deputy Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco.

DeCicco explained while council does not own the land, they have not heard any compelling reasons to change its mind regarding the Talbot block or the construction of the arena/entertainment complex.

"There hasn't been a shortage of ideas. We've heard suggestions of a library, a new city hall, but we need a project to be done in a short period," DeCicco said.

She explained this construction will not revitalize London on its own – that will need the help of more stores and coffee shops. "There needs to be a catalyst to get the ball rolling. Downtown London isn't going to be improved with just one thing."

In search of other such options, the city of London contacted an American consulting firm called National Main Street, which runs a program within the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Josh Bloom, senior program associate for Main Street visited London earlier this year and again this month to find downtown London in the midst of a difficult climate. "We've seen the exact same problems in London as we've seen in many U.S. cities and many have recovered successfully," Bloom said.

The consulting firm is placing its attention on the economy of Dundas Street, which Bloom said is not living up to its potential. Main Street remains separate from the arena issue as it strives to examine the public and business needs of the London community, he added.

"We're looking at placing an attractive business mix in the downtown core by recruiting businesses and helping the businesses that are there now," he explained. "We look at market analyses with a customer base and ask what do people need and then make the downtown reflect the community's needs."

Orlando Zamprogna, comptroller for the city of London, said the arena is a multipurpose venue, but will mostly be used as an ice facility. Zamprogna also said he will go along with council's majority decision to restructure the Talbot Block. "It's doable for the present, but it needs to be attractive to draw people."

The location could be a place for many other public purposes, he added. "There are a variety of commercial uses like boutiques; a library was a big one or a performing arts centre, but the money was not justified for the last one."

The complex will draw a large number to the downtown area, however, the building cannot be simply thought of as an arena as it will also be a venue for musical performances, Zamprogna explained.

Brian Meehan, director for the London Regional and Historical Art Museum, comments on the aesthetics of the arena/entertainment complex. "The Talbot block is a terrific opportunity to have something, but sensitivity must be shown to the sight. If the building is a windowless, concrete bunker then that doesn't add much to the downtown. Instead it will stand alone, without involving the downtown retail," he said.

Meehan drew examples of larger cities' promotional method of moving people downtown. "A civic square such as Nathan Phillps Square in Toronto focuses people's attention on one spot and this is a centre for the community, as well as a meeting place."

Steve Gerlinas, manager and owner for The Market Pet Shop on King Street, said he is looking forward to the Talbot block arena, even though its construction will bring initial setbacks.

"In the long run this will be good for the downtown, but the place would better be served for residential uses. But I don't know of any developer who would be interested in that," he said.


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