On Monday March 27th a presentation was made to Collingwood Council by Streetcar Development Inc. and Dream Unlimited Corp. wherein the developers revealed their proposed plans to revitalize the Collingwood Grain Terminals.


Opened in 1929 the Terminals are 94 years old this year and other than housing a few antennae which are active on the roof, the building remains mostly unused and in a state of disrepair.  For many Collingwood residents, especially the ones born and raised here, preserving the terminals which have played a part in Collingwood’s maritime history is of the utmost importance.  To others, its an eyesore that some would like to see removed and the land put to better use for both residents and visitors alike to access and enjoy.

Prior to issuing a request for proposals to redevelopment the building and land, the Town (the building’s current owner), commissioned a study which resulted in an engineering report regarding the current state of the building.  The report provided two options with cost estimates.

Option 1 was to preserve the roof and façade and did not include any renovations or work on the interior space in order to provide useable space etc.  The cost for this was estimated at $10 million and that was several years ago.  Essentially this work would help to preserve the building from further deterioration while serving to improve its exterior appearance until further options for its future could be explored.

Option 2 was simply to demolish the building at an estimated cost of $5 million.  In addition to these two options, Town staff also estimated it would cost about $3 million to improve road access to the site via Heritage Drive as well as to provide utilities service.  I suspect that estimate may be much higher today.

Not included in the above mentioned engineering report was an assessment as to the condition of the 4,000 wood pilings that were driven into the lake bed forming the base foundation for the entire structure.  The condition of those pilings remains unknown and to determine their current condition alone will no doubt cost a significant amount of money for testing etc.

When the Shipyards closed in1986, many including myself had great visions and hopes as to what could be done with Collingwood’s waterfront harbour lands.  Having travelled extensively across Canada, the U.S. and parts of Europe, I had seen first hand what other towns and cities had done with their waterfront areas.

One of the best examples is Chicago which borders on Lake Michigan and a place where I lived for four years in the early 1990’s.  While Chicago had its share of downtown high-rise commercial buildings and condominiums, it has a vibrant accessible waterfront consisting of parkland, beaches, marinas, restaurants, a museum, the Shed Aquarium and more. Such was the vision that I and no doubt others had for Collingwood after the Shipyards closed..

Thirty-seven years later the redevelopment of the former Shipyards property has been disappointing.  While there is a promenade along the water and a small amphitheatre which gets used and enjoyed for entertainment purposes, the rest of the property is either multi-level condos or townhouses no different than you would see anywhere.  Retail shops?  None.  Restaurants, a place to get a coffee of a drink?  Sorry, none.  A waterfront hotel? Nope.  There are walking trails to the top of the toxic berm offering no view and along the water provided you don’t mind passing by the town’s sewage treatment plant.

On the surface and after a quick glance, the artist’s renderings that were presented at the Town Council meeting on March 27th and are available to view on the website “Engage Collingwood” are impressive.  Reactions online range from excitement, enthusiasm and accolades to outright negative criticism.

The proposed development is estimated to cost $200 million and in my opinion low, is to consist of many of the things people have been wanting for years.  Public access to the water, walking trails. shops, restaurants/bars, outdoor living spaces to sit and eat, better docking and marina services for boaters, a hotel and special events space and underground parking among other things.  Reviewing the proposal in detail shows there are plans for a fitness and wellness centre, even ziplines, rock climbing walls inside the terminal’s large concrete bins, a platform to swim from, winter skating and a lookout point to gaze out at Georgian Bay.

In reading the online comments both good and bad there are some negative points that may well kill this project before it even gets off the ground.    People are complaining about the condominium structure at the far east end of the Terminal building that will soar 24 stories.  Among the comments: “It’s too large, ugly, hideous, a monstrosity, too high, not heritage enough, etc. etc.  Among the online comments a questions was asked, “where will people part?”  Read the report and view the presentation.

Yes the proposal includes condominiums the latter of which seem to be the main source of criticism.  More condominiums in Collingwood may not be to your liking but if this project is going to have any hope at all of moving forward it has to be financially viable for the developers and that may well mean a 20 or 24 storey condominium component.  Surely the developers did some preliminary cost studies in preparing their presentation.

Based on my experience I feel the $200 million price tag is low.  As of today there are too many unknowns.  What is the condition of the 4,000 wood pilings under the Terminal that I mentioned above?  Do they need and or can they be replaced or shored up and at what cost?Given that Millennial Park was primarily constructed via backfilling the harbour, can underground parking be accomplished on the site and at what cost?  Will the current structure support a multi-storey condo component etc. etc.

Both the Town and the developers are going to be looking for public input into this proposal and that’s great.  At the same time if there is a significant amount of backlash and or negative criticism from the public as to the look, height and any other aspects of the proposal or if the heritage preservation interests  get too aggressive, I suspect this long awaited project will be dead in the water.

Personally, I believe as do I suspects others, that in terms of what we envisioned for Collingwood’s waterfront thirty-seven years ago when the Shipyards closed, “that ship has sailed.”  What this or any other developer is or may propose will never be 100% to our satisfaction.  It’s time to be thankful that someone with “vision” has come forth with an idea that meets and provides many of the waterfront amenities we have been wanting.

There’s an old saying made by a John Lydgate: “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”

When the time comes for people to provide some input into what they’d like to see happen with the Terminal I encourage you to do so but be reasonable. We are long past what we’d like to see done with Collingwood’s waterfront and time is running out for the 94 year old Terminals.  The Town has attracted a developer with the vision and the willingness to spend $200+ million of their own money to build what would be a showpiece on the Great Lakes.  If there is too much negative comment from the public the developer may simply move on with the only alternative being to spend $5 million of taxpayer’s money and tear the building down.