Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition November 22, 2014
In a time when all signs point to bolstering the population downtown as a revitalization tool, you have to wonder why a concept to make the property at Ninth Street and Princess Avenue greenspace made it as far as it did.
The recommendation came as part of a report prepared by a third-party agency that will be tweaked and presented to council early in the new year. It spoke to the need to add greenspace on the now vacant and once contaminated strip of land along Princess that was home to the Brandon Inn — coincidentally a piece of land kitty-corner to one of Brandon’s most active sites for summer events, Princess Park.
Rewind a bit to when the city took hold by default of the Brandon Inn site. The hope was all along to have a developable piece of property for ideally a mixed-use scenario or the ever-elusive downtown boutique hotel.
It was the same catalyst that prompted Renaissance Brandon at the time to work to secure other pieces of land along the adjacent properties in the hopes that one day it would lend itself to a bigger structure.
During that time, the city and the Downtown Development Corp. were at odds over a plethora of structural issues — but on that one at least, all the horses appeared to be pulling in the same direction.
And it was always believed that with the level of investment present by both the city and Renaissance Brandon, that a win was needed on that corner — especially when considering the cost of environmental cleanup and demolition, a cost that has eclipsed the $1-million mark at last mention.
This document appears now to have placed newly minted Mayor Rick Chrest and council in their first real challenge to one of the former council’s plans.
And it may have drawn the first of many ideological lines, as Coun. Vanessa Hamilton (Riverview) shared on Twitter this past week that the idea for arts and heritage space on that corner originated from her. She also shared it was one of many great ideas, but it does draw a stark contrast to other council members’ views for what should inhabit the corner long-term.
Now, Hamilton is by no means offside here. It merely underscores the spectrum of different ideologies present — which could in the end be a good thing.
Another idea out there suggests developing the property as greenspace until something more substantial comes along.
The danger with this, however, hearkens back to the days of the Prince Edward Hotel as it was demolished, waiting for the perfect storm to blow in and fill the vacant lot — much easier said than done.
It does not benefit the downtown to have dirt fields. But at the same time, dirt fields will hopefully spur local officials and the community to push harder to find a new tenant for the large plot of land.
Our new mayor seems to be on point with the idea that a higher, better use could be in the wings for the corner, a sentiment echoed by city manager Scott Hildebrand and Renaissance Brandon chair Steve McMillan. That board has been working for well over a year with separate consultants to find a best possible use for the site.
The Greenspace Master Plan consultants have their place in helping a community to think differently — and in this case, many of their recommendations would enhance this city. But on this point they seem to be off the mark as to what is needed to help revitalize downtown.
Chrest had promised during his election campaign that the time for action on many of these projects is now as opposed to burying ever deeper in studies and reports — an ideology that appears to be on the right side of city residents’ current wishes.
The rubber needs to hit the road when it comes to a downtown project, and the corner at Ninth and Princess is the prime location to put a plan in place and enact real change for the better.
Barring that, the question remains — what, if anything, can bring change and move the cause of downtown development forward?
The time is now and if the right decision is made, an opportunity may be waiting right around the corner for the one-time heart of this community.