By 2026, our town and all its public and retail spaces must conform to rigid design protocols that address accessibility issues. The challenge is both complex and costly. And coming faster than anyone is really prepared for.
As a representative of the town’s Joint Accessibility Advisory Committee, I believe the old NOTL Hospital site can be part of our accessibility solution, and give us a wonderful opportunity to grow into a next generation tourism destination.
The hospital has been a fixture in NOTL since the mid 50s. It likely is not a strong qualifier for any form of heritage preservation status. The town has declared that they plan to offer the site for sale or disposition to other suitable uses.
An ideal vision is to demolish the hospital building and replace it with a carefully designed multi-level parking facility that is built to accommodate the needs of the entire Heritage District. This facility must feature full accessibility measures but also be designed with a facade/appearance in keeping with the heritage characteristic of this district and height regulations. Additionally it could/should include some retail and service features that prevent it from being just an ugly parking place.
The big benefit then becomes the fantastic opportunity to allow the Queen Street heritage area to become an open piazza that can feature more permanent installations that include retail locations, cafes, and expansion areas for existing businesses. Creative imagination can expand to greater opportunities and solutions. Capacity and enhanced services become the mainstay of a thriving and growing tourist experience.
These considerations become poignant in 2025 when all retail and service operations will be required by law to be fully accessible.
Physically, the service requirements can be managed by a single lane access with load and unload positions strategically placed with timed access to minimize congestion and maximize efficiency.
It is impossible to ignore or diminish the implications of infrastructure and the related costs. A specific solution related to the parking garage is likely best served by a Public Private Participation (3P) model that addresses the bigger overall project vision. From the revenues accrued by the public partner, funding can be directed to enabling and entrenching the piazza vision.
Having visited numerous European regions large and small, resident and business access to more restricted areas is easily managed by the implementation barriers that retract into the road surface to allow egress and regress on a pass card basis. It works!
There are a whole host of reasons to argue why it can’t be done, and maybe we should look at why can’t we do it.
Way back in the history of NOTL there existed a tollgate to enter the town. So with about two to three million visitors a year crossing into our town, maybe an electronic tollgate at “a buck a car” (not a beer) could be considered. How to do this? Ask the 407 ETR to suggest a solution as an electronic partner.