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In a December 17 Letter to the Editor, Saugeen Shores Mayor Luke Charbonneau reiterated that which he expressed during the December 16 Committee of Whole concerning the Port Elgin waterfront project.


Throughout most of my life, I have longed for a renaissance at Port Elgin’s Main Beach.

Having been born in the early 1980’s, I missed the heyday of the Cedar Crescent Casino by more than a decade. In my early years, its was the newer version of the casino that dominated the north end of the Port Elgin Main Beach; I have some hazy memories of attending some children’s concerts and an early Pumpkinfest there. Before I was twelve, the facility was torn down and not replaced.

I also recall, throughout my childhood, attending summertime concerts and events at the band shell that once stood prominently on the beach. I have some very fond memories of time spent at the band shell with friends. I also remember the band shell being torn down; A small pavilion resembling a gazebo took its place. I could never understand why.

Like almost everyone else, I spent time at The Station. I remember listening to the train whistle sounding throughout the days spent working on my parent’s farm. I remember playing mini-golf and buying ice-cream there. Over the years, the train took fewer and fewer trips around Northshore Park, I heard the train whistle sound less and less and I saw the building and mini-golf fall into an increasing state of disrepair.

Of course, I also enjoyed the beach carnivals. Winning at the cake wheel, Crown and Anchor or BINGO was one of the best parts of summer evenings spent on the Main Beach. Lots of people I knew helped run those carnivals; raising money for their community groups and clubs. It was a very sad day for me when those events were discontinued by order of the Province.

As I entered my twenties, it seemed to me that a trend of dismemberment had taken hold at Port Elgin’s Main Beach. It seemed that, piece by piece, it was coming apart without much apparent action being taken to meaningfully restore or replace what was being lost.

After four years at the University of Toronto, I became more convinced than ever that I was most at home in the community where I had grown up. I returned to Saugeen Shores, entered business and, in 2006, chose to run for municipal Council. My growing desire to do something to improve our waterfront was one of the primary reasons for that decision.

During my first term as a member of Council, I was frustrated that we seemed to do little to invest in our waterfront. My desire to focus the municipal government more on the need for waterfront improvement informed my decision to run for Deputy Mayor in 2010. I remember clearly the campaign commitment that I made in that election to “propose that Council create a plan to revitalize our waterfront and commit to funding its implementation”. I promised that I would ask Council to strike a Waterfront Ad Hoc Committee with a mandate to create a waterfront master plan. I took that promise to the doorsteps and was elected. Then I took the message to Council and we got those things done.

By the end of 2014, with the help of an outstanding committee, we had developed a Waterfront Master Plan as well as a design concept for a revitalized Port Elgin Main Beach. Through multiple rounds of public consultation, held over the course of those four years, we had developed a “year‐round comprehensive vision and conceptual design for the Port Elgin Main Beach to enhance the destination potential of the Port Elgin Waterfront.”[EDA Report, 2014].

I was pleased when, following the 2014 municipal election, Council began to allocate significant dollars toward implementing these plans that we had developed in consultation with the community. In 2016, I voted along with my colleagues to earmark $1.4 million dollars to begin implementing the plan. The availability of these funds enabled work to proceed on renovating the Beach House washroom facility and on extending the promenade to the south. Finally, investments in our beach were starting to be completed because of the work that we had done.

Through 2017 and 2018, improvement efforts on Port Elgin’s Main Beach continued as the Town worked with Fisheries and Oceans Canada to secure a federal investment for the reconstruction of the south breakwall; funding for that project was approved by the Federal Government and the Town in early 2019 and construction is now proceeding.

During the same period, the Town began negotiating with the owners of The Station to advance a needed and long-desired revitalization of the area on the north end of the beach that had been leased to that business for approximately 30 years. Those negotiations were not successful as the parties could not agree on the terms of a lease; this set the municipality on a path toward considering other ways to advance revitalization on the north end of the Main Beach.

The 2014 Port Elgin Waterfront Design Concept envisioned that the train station and mini-putt could be moved out of the area in order to make way for “a contextually sensitive mixed‐use development.” The plan depicted examples of larger scale, commercial type facilities with ample public space as examples of what might be considered for the site. Following the 2018 municipal election, the municipality began to structure an open request for proposals to seek ideas from private sector developers on how to achieve the community’s vision for that part of the beach. We made it clear that we would not consider residential development on the site, that we wanted to maintain a train ride attraction in the area and that we were looking for a development that would provide year-round amenities of the sort that had been identified by the public as desirable through the development of our waterfront plans.

In early 2019, we issued the RFP. Many parties expressed interest in the potential project by picking up copies of the RFP document. However, only one proponent came forward with a proposal. After considering what was being suggested by those proponents and determining that it was within the scope of what was requested through the RFP, Council chose to enter into an memorandum of understanding with them and began to develop detailed plans for the redevelopment of the north end of the beach through a new, public private partnership.

Now that we have reached the stage of considering those detailed plans, I find myself thinking a lot about the extended process that has brought us to this point. It’s easy sometimes to think of important community decisions in isolation rather than as part of a continuum where one decision follows upon another based upon plans that many of our neighbours have spent years in developing.

We are most certainly on a continuum of planning and decision making when it comes to revitalizing Port Elgin’s waterfront. We have consulted, planned, invested and achieved a lot; I am proud to have been a part of making many of these achievements possible. In fact, I believe that we are now on the cusp of a wholesale renaissance at the Main Beach; As previous investments combine with proposed improvements to overwhelmingly reverse the trend of dismemberment and decay that I (and so many others) identified years ago.

I support the proposed lease agreement as an appropriate framework by which to achieve the revitalization of the north end of Port Elgin’s Main Beach.

This agreement will see the addition of a new restaurant and banquet room, waterfront focused services and small-scale retail, out door recreation facilities and enhanced public services at the Main Beach. This proposal will reconfigure the Main Beach area; making it more pedestrian focused while creating more efficient and improved parking. This proposal will ensure that the limited beach area at the Main Beach is available for sun bathing and sand castle building; removing beach volleyball from the ‘towel space’ along the water’s edge.

The proposal is a public-private partnership between the municipality and local business owners; it carries on the long tradition of such partnerships on that part of the Main Beach. It will update and clean-up the waterfront, providing amenities that will serve our growing community’s residents and visitors in equal measure. Value to both residents and visitors will be enhanced through a significantly increased annual lease rate in lieu of which the municipality will accept free public services, to be delivered by the proponent. The proposed new development will also support the community through the one-time payment of development charges and the annual payment of municipal property taxes.

The proposed lease sets out a structure that will help to ensure the long-term viability and sustainability of the public-private partnership while also providing multiple levels of protection for the municipality and its tax payers for today and for the future. Regulations providing for the protection of the environment and for the security of property against damage by the lake and other natural forces will be respected and followed as part of this project.

Most importantly, I believe that, in combination with the many other steps that we are taking to improve the main beach, this proposed project will help to restore the sense of pride in the main beach that I (and so many others in our community) have been longing to recreate for much of my lifetime.

Discussions about our waterfront have always elicited much passion from members of our community; this discussion has been no exception. I understand that many in the community will disagree with my views and the direction that Council chooses to take on this issue. I can assure you that Council has heard and considered all of the varied perspectives on this proposed project as part of its decision making process. I can also assure all community members that members of Council harbour no ill will toward anyone who has expressed their views as part of this process. Our goal has been to advance waterfront improvement in a way that serves the broad public interest. I believe that we have done that with regard to this project and I am looking forward to working with all members of the community as we continue to advance waterfront improvement for the benefit of all.

Luke Charbonneau

Full story to come.