Beach enhancement special report: Beach is fine, focus on Main Street first

Doug Smaill and Janet Carter
Huckleberries Café

As told to Casey Lessard

Doug: They’re putting the cart before the horse. People come to the beach. That’s not an issue.
I have yet to talk to anyone who is really for beach enhancement. Most people like the beach the way it is now. We need to talk about main street enhancement. In the last 14 months, we’ve lost eight full-time, year-round businesses including Blomans, I’m Starvin’, The Dollar Store, Saga Bound, Finnegan’s, The Health Nut, Periwinkles, Royal LePage. We’ve had a couple of year-round businesses that have now pulled out for the winter: Lakeview Café and the Pineland. The municipality, especially Ward 1, should be trying to make sure that stops.
Let’s not worry about the beach – the beach is packed in the summer. To add a children’s splash park, there are all sorts of issues around maintenance of that. The expense of it; the location of it. It would be great to have a water park, just not on the beach. We get sand all the way up here, so to put the mechanics of a water park on the main beach, the maintenance would be horrendous.
As far as trees going in on the beach, most people don’t go to the beach to sit in the shade. They too would be better in a park away from the beach. If we’re able to spend $1.8 million on a parking lot, I’m sure we can spend some more money on another piece of land downtown.
Janet: It’s great to implement new things. Just show me it’s going to work.
In the three seasons we’ve owned Huckleberries, we have yet to see any money spent on main street, and yet they’ve planted trees that are dying, dead, gone; they’ve got buckets around some trees that are broken; they have hydro beside the trees that is non-existent (it’s there, it’s just not useable). We’ve had people tell us about lights in anchors not working properly. The bridge needs painting, the pier needs painting; these are all very doable things with the right manpower, but we don’t even have the infrastructure for that. I don’t understand how anyone can back a program that doesn’t have the infrastructure in place.
Change is good. But it needs to be reasonable change. Things that can be affordable. Come together with an entire plan that tells us how much it’s going to cost to instigate it (because I don’t believe $3.5 million will do it), how much it’s going to cost to maintain it, how much additional manpower is going to be put into place to maintain it, and whether or not what they’ve already got is going to be maintained in this process.
Our winters are very tough on businesses that stay open in the winter. Are they going to raise our taxes, which are already higher than the average? Are they going to hit the residential people? I’m sure that won’t make them happy either. I want to know that this is going to be self-sustaining.
From what I’ve seen, there is no revenue generation; it is all cost. Where are we going to get revenue for all of these projects? I appreciate the Rotary and the Community Foundation are behind this. I believe we need to be behind enhancement for Grand Bend. But let’s do the due diligence. Someone needs to look at this and decide whether this is the best use of our money.
Doug: People tell us they want to see the main street fixed. They would like to see better infrastructure in terms of the benches and the sidewalk. A lot of things could be done with the main street that wouldn’t be nearly as expensive as, for example, purchasing the pier. Let’s call Port Stanley and ask them how much the maintenance and upgrade for that would be.
Janet: We’re proud of Grand Bend and we care enough to be concerned about what’s happening.
It’s a beautiful project. Beautification is a great thing. But if it’s not meant to be in Grand Bend, then it shouldn’t be in Grand Bend. That’s what we need to determine: will it work here?