After experts in town for a new urbanism conference rode their bicycles along the dormant Drouillard Road in Ford City, the Windsor Star, on June 10, was bragging about it becoming Windsor’s next cool street.
The local paper quoted architect Dorian Moore, of Detroit’s ArchiveDS, who speculated that Ford City could be Windsor’s answer to Philadelphia’s famed Passyunk Avenue. This commercial strip of Philly, once a prime example of urban blight, is now quite tony; all from private investment.
Unfortunately, Ford City will never be a Passyunk. The reasons are many.
Passyunk, as its website explains, is, “… a few minutes from Center City Philadelphia … is home to over 150 independently owned businesses, ranging from unique boutiques offering hand-made wares and fashion to fine dining in a relaxed atmosphere and the world-famous ‘Cheesesteak Corner.’”
Ford City has 80 storefronts, with about 25 vacant, according to a chart prepared last year by community planner TJ Auer. It is an odd calculation, given only a handful offer commercial services. Auer might have been adding in the commercial to residential conversions.
Then there is the fact Ford City has no world-famous corner, no subway stops, no major thoroughfare, and is precisely not in the middle of a large city.
The comments of Moore simply provides false hope for those who love and admire Ford City. Despite Moore’s optimism, without Windsor’s Council taking some definitive action, Drouillard Road will continue its progressive decline.
This would seem odd given that Council is pouring millions into a weeklong, flash-in-the-pan swimming meet in December, largely for out of town swimmers operated by a rich foreign-based swimming organization.
FINA, reported SwimVortex on May 25, 2015, has bank assets of $100 million and, after the Rio Olympics, will net $32 million in share-out from the International Olympic Committee.
Why does it need Windsor’s money?
Despite Windsor Council’s avowed promise to do nothing for the city, but rather support others, Ford City supporters should know other communities are not so glitz-obsessed. Tecumseh, for one, plans a $19 million allocation to remove utility poles on its main street. The bedroom community hopes this will begin the process of attracting café society.
Windsor needs to invest at least as much to turn Ford City around and to stop the bleeding.
Right now, Ford City is costing taxpayers plenty. An October 16, 2015, report in the Windsor Star revealed its blight has resulted in, “… over $6 million in lost property assessment value.”
As the strip deteriorates, assessed values drop along with tax revenues. The decline also causes, “… extra costs due to more calls for municipal services, including bylaw enforcement and extra demands on police and fire services.”
In other cities, politicians would be inclined to step in, if only to stop the haemorrhaging.
Not in Windsor where its council is too busy with swim meets.
Ford City supporters may want to corner their local councillor and plain-out ask him the benefit, pretence-free in actual dollars, to their neighbourhood of Windsor hosting FINA. Ask him to ante up knowing that to fix Drouillard will take money. As George Harrison would sing, “It’s gonna take plenty of money.”
Topping the to-do list should be increasing its population density.
Bulldozing derelict houses, offering incentives to developers to rebuild, setting design standards to create a unique atmosphere, and restoring and rejuvenating empty storefronts against standards reflecting their historic significance, are just a few ways Council can help.
Working with landlords and appointing a real estate expert to fill the renovated stores with retailers can be done. But, the city has to spend money; which it won’t.
Not when it can chase FINA glitz.
And that is why the residents there need to really think hard about who they will vote for in the next election. The current guy has spent six years doing little. Walk down Drouillard and you can see the results of his lack of effort.