link (a letter I wrote for the Sarnia Journal)
Sir: Former city councillor John Vollmar recently criticized council for “vetoing” two offers to purchase Bayside Mall.
He suggested we should count our losses and let go of the land with the building, and offload it to avoid any further costs.
While John is correct that the City of Sarnia hasn’t proven itself with ambitious projects, there is another idea we should fully explore.
If Bayside Mall was owned by the city, city staff could pick up and move into it, sell their building and prime real estate near the water, and then, by virtue of relocation, reinvigorate the decrepit mall.
Turning the mall into a hub of city and social services as a one-stop-shop for everything would be a welcome collaboration that few cities have the luxury of, but all wish they did.
Malls are dying across North America and the only thing more depressing than an almost empty downtown mall is an empty downtown mall.
The mall has lots of potential. The parking is there. The space is there. There is even a fountain and large conference centre. A section is already dedicated to provincial services and social organizations.
To John Vollmar’s credit, he doesn’t want another RBC Centre, Research Park, Centennial Park or General Hospital, where city staff seem to become paralyzed by bureaucracy and lack innovation and entrepreneurial skill.
Maybe if city staff had more space and comfier chairs it would invigorate them to stretch their creative muscles. The city owning the mall is clearly the better decision to see a restoration of the space.
City hall needs real talent, with a heart for the city, that knows how to take calculated risks.
I can then see the Bayside Mall incorporating other opportunities like libraries, museums, galleries, research parks, conferences, restaurants, health and emergency services, education offices, more social organizations, and become a city centre benefitting us all.
It’s a big dream that will require a significant amount of skilled and visionary leadership – but it would be the catalyst for the complete restoration of downtown Sarnia.