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Business and citizens fight to save the city's south core.

In the tale of Thunder Bay's two cities it looks like the south downtown core will write the new chapter.

Once again, public consensus and political will are coming together to help reverse the decline of the core of what was Fort William. The last time this happened, the result was a less-than-successful enclosed shopping mall. This time it is hoped that recreational facilities and office projects will spur commerce.

Two committees, one official and one made up of concerned citizens, are pushing to revitalize the area. They want to amalgamate scattered municipal offices in the core, rebuild a venerable hockey arena and curling rink and create a new riverfront park.

Boosters of the south core want to change the course of history and avoid repeating it.

Since the amalgamation of Port Arthur and Fort William 21 years ago, the north

core has shrunk, but stabilized. It has retained a department store and hotel, and has added a showpiece provincial government building and new restaurants.

However, the south core's decline in appearance and function has been unchecked.

Key businesses have folded or left, with little to replace them. Studies indicate that the core now has only half the commercial space it had in the late 1960s. Approximately one million square feet has disappeared.

More recently, several offices have moved from the south core to newer facilities in the Intercity/Balmoral area. These have included Bell Canada and Thunder Bay Telephone. The next to leave will be Canada Employment and Immigration -- which will move 200 workers to Intercity from both downtowns.

"The decline of the south downtown is a tragedy," says Livio Di Mateo, a Lakehead University economist helping the citizens' committee. Di Mateo says downtowns -- with their shops, offices, entertainment and services -- are "the focus of urban life."

Meanwhile, city Councillor David Hamilton believes Thunder Bay cannot financially afford to abandon its downtown areas.

"The heaviest public investment in services per acre is in the core areas," he points out. "Vacant land and weeds are a poor return on the taxpayer's dollar."

Hamilton heads up the South Core Initiatives Co-ordinating Committee, a group composed of representatives from the city and five business associations. It wants to establish a central authority to control the area's development and advocates consolidating four city departments and 300 workers into the core. Hamilton says the amalgamation will provide a "one-stop shop" of city services.

Meanwhile, the merchant-led committee calling itself South Core Only is pressing hard for capital improvements recommended by various consultants. Its top priority is building a new multi-purpose sports arena and auditorium.

Engineers predict that the existing Fort William Gardens will be structurally unsafe in three years if it does not receive about $8 million in repairs.

The city plans to attract private investment by making the area more physically appealing. It believes that building an $11-million park at the nearby Kaministiquia River will have the same effect that the Marina Park had in the north core.
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Title Annotation:Focus on Thunder Bay
Author:Sanders, Larry
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Nov 1, 1991
Words:495
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