Saturday, February 26, 2005

"Piles of rubble, empty lots, blocks of concrete, steel and glass"

Oh boy! It's Ontario Heritage Week. The London Free Press clearly should be avoided this week, as it surely will be passing more heritage wind than usual:

"Downtown London has been gutted, like a fish filet -- meat on both sides, the guts out of the middle," said Robert Shipley, who teaches planning at the University of Waterloo and is a leading expert on Ontario's heritage stock.

Time and again, the city has seen heritage properties "demolished by neglect," said city heritage planner Christine Nelson.

"The easiest thing to do that's non-confrontational is to leave a building empty, turn off the lights and heat and pretty soon it's going to be unsafe and too expensive to repair," Nelson said.

"Property standards laws just aren't tough enough to force property owners to maintain their buildings at an appropriate level."
An appropriate level, to be determined and enforced by the ministers of heritage. And if the owner of a designated heritage builiding cannot afford the "appropriate" repairs, will the city seize the property if it is not maintained according to such necessarily arbitrary standards?
Shipley describes the recent demolition of St. Peter's Rectory, for example, as a continuation of the "vandalism" of heritage.

"Without having done the research, I'd say the destruction of historical buildings in London has, economically, been a bad idea."
It would have been a bad idea for St.Peters to repair the rectory, for the soundest economic reasons: long term safety and preservation. I suppose we should have forced the church to spend their funds as the heritage fascists would have liked, even if such extravagance would negatively impact their budget in the long run when the walls caved in. The ministers of heritage would have us all running up huge debts, much like the way the city, province and country is run, which is to say, irresponsibly. Before long the entire city will be reduced to relative rumble and as everyone will be bankrupt, there will be no more pockets to pick, which we can, after careful research, claim results from the vandalism of private property.

Why not apply this logic of force to the situation at Fanshawe Village, which has fallen to ruin, although they get free unearned money from the city. Maybe they should have been forced to manage their money properly or give up and get out of 'business'.

Perhaps they would have more money for repairs if the village's directors didn't spend $30,000 on a consultant to determine and shape the village's "mandate". Mismanagement will not be rectified by further seizures of public funds.

Despite the continual promises made by village leaders that they would raise more private revenue, they continue to rally for more city money, passing the buck to next year. The broken record continues to skip. Don Pearson, board chairperson of Fanshawe Pioneer Village attempts to justify the misuse of yet further public funds in an article written by Ian Gillespie:
Pearson agrees the historic village is in shabby shape and that after visiting, many people won't want to return.

"I'd be the first to admit it needs a facelift," says Pearson. "And I think the city's view is that if this is a leaky bucket, they might as well cut their losses and run."

In essence, Pearson says the village can't continue without more money. And he says the city's contribution forms the linchpin of the site's future, because without it, the village can't convince private and corporate donors to shell out.

"We're not playing some sort of brinkmanship," he says. "(But) if we don't have the city's (financial) support, there's no other sustainable, feasible, long-term operational model for the place.

"We have many willing donors who are ready and able to contribute toward a capital campaign," he adds. "But they're not prepared to do so unless they see that the municipality is committed."

Pearson rhymes off the numbers: Last year's budget was just under $700,000. He says about $26,000 was from a provincial museum grant; about $82,000 from fundraising; about $116,000 came from revenue; about $168,000 was derived from government groups such as the Trillium Foundation; and about $5,000 came from the municipality of Thames Centre and $290,000 from the City of London.

But he says that's not nearly enough.

Meanwhile, council has cut its funding by $75,000. Pearson says that would mean axing two of the village's six full-time positions.

He says the village needs more than $1 million to spruce up its 30 buildings. He adds the village needs even more money -- $2 million to $3 million more -- to pay for storage, maintenance and restoration of the artifacts.

Pearson says he's "puzzled" by comments from the mayor and several councillors that they're frustrated village officials haven't submitted a long-term business plan.

"Perhaps the city didn't accept the numbers," says Pearson.

I ask Pearson if he thinks the village is top-heavy with managers.

"I have a hard time understanding where that's coming from," he says, adding a team from UWO's Richard Ivey School of Business concluded the village mainly needs a secure base of funding.

I ask Pearson if the village was justified in paying a consultant $30,000 to define its mandate. He says shaping a mandate isn't something that should be done by a curator or single staff member, and that the city paid for that study.

I tell Pearson one local historian told me dozens of valuable artifacts have disappeared from the village over the years -- and ended up in local antique shops.

"Some of these things, are they there anymore?" answers Pearson. "No. Did they disappear? The only significant loss I can recall is the Soper gun collection" that was stolen in the mid-1980s.

I ask Pearson if he thinks the village, which isn't served by local transit and is situated far from tourists toodling down Highway 401, is poorly located.

"That's a legitimate question," he says, but adds that moving the buildings would cost more than $100,000. He cautions that "decommissioning" the village will cost more than $2 million.

[ . . . . ]

"If the community doesn't find this entity to be worthy, then who are we trying to kid?" says Pearson. "But I think this is a case of where we won't know what we've got until it's gone."
Good riddance - I won't miss you and apparently most Londoners won't care either. I suppose they can always lobby the province. Sounds like Ontario Tourism and Recreation Minister Jim Bradley would be happy to help the village beg for money:
Asked about London's struggling Fanshawe Pioneer Village, Bradley said his ministry would like to hear from London if it could be of any assistance in marketing.

"No question about that, I think it is something worth preserving," he said.

1 Comment:

MapMaster said...

Indeed, London does not do a good job of protecting its heritage — of letting people alone to do what they want with their property.