Grand Bend Main Street makeover set to start

Federal and provincial funding means project has to finish by June 1, 2010, but Lambton Shores was ready thanks to master plan

Story and photo by Casey Lessard

Grand Bend’s Main Street is less than a year away from a major makeover that will see few major changes, but which the municipality believes will make Grand Bend a better place for pedestrians and motorists.
“The whole idea is to make the street more humanized,” says Patrick Li of EDA Collaborative Inc., the company that mapped out Grand Bend’s beach enhancement project. “Encourage pedestrian safety and enjoyment without compromising the cars. We maintain what is required for two-lane traffic, and we clearly identify parking on both sides. We create angles in and out so it’s easier to park. We also begin to introduce colour and graphics, trees and banners, benches and bicycle racks.”
The thrust of the project is reworking the road and sidewalks to meet current provincial standards for accessibility and safety. The road will be graded and sidewalks will allow for smooth entry to most businesses, Li says. Parking will be reduced by about 20 spaces on the main street. Trees will be replaced with native trees; the new trees will be given appropriate room to breathe and grow. Hydro wires will be buried on the north side and poles on the south side will be replaced. Paving stones at intersections will form visual mosaics that symbolize local themes, and a new meeting space will replace some parking spaces at the former Finnegan’s parking lot.
“We have an opportunity to make the street easier for pedestrians and traffic,” says Ward 1 Lambton Shores councillor John Dehondt. “We can fix a lot of the things that were done in the original design. If you look through the main street, we’ve lost a bit of parking, but everything flows better and it’s safer for pedestrians.”
The project is going forward thanks to a federal/provincial infrastructure grant that will cover 2/3rds of the $2.6 million project. Thanks to advanced planning by the municipality in the form of its master plan, the project was an easy pitch.
“We went ahead in each of our communities and put together what we would like the communities to look like. When we found out that infrastructure money could happen, we were shovel-ready, and they said go for it. It all has to be done by June 1, 2010, and we can accommodate that.”
The plan is not perfect, say business owner Greg Gallello and artist Teresa Marie. Gallello says he came to the Thursday show-and-tell meeting with a closed mind, and left putting his trust in the municipality.
“Grand Bend is what it is because of the beach,” Gallello says. “Without that, we’re just like any other small town. We have to remember our main attraction is the beach. When you turn on Main Street now, you see the sand and the water, and it looks amazing. Looking at these plans, it looks like you’re not going to see the beach anymore because of all the trees.”
Teresa Marie believes the municipality handled the process poorly, racing through the process that will still see local funds pay almost $1 million for the project.
“It could have been on display all summer,” she said of the plans displayed Thursday. “They’ve known about this. They’ve got the money. It’s not like they found out about this yesterday.”
In fact, last time this newspaper was invited to a meeting about the downtown was in May 2008, when plans included angled parking.
“They want me to believe that this is what they’ve come up with in a year,” Teresa Marie says. “And no price breakdown. How much will those paving stones cost? Why are you putting paving stones on a road where no one’s going to see them? Why not put that money into sculpture instead of trees on the street? Everyone has trees. Sculptures are more unique.”
For John Dehondt, majority rules, and he says most people are on board with the project, even if the details cause disagreement.
“I think everyone’s on side with the project fundamentally. If we don’t inconvenience people during the process, I think we’re good.”
There is still some room for public input, but it seems as if the bulk of the project is a done deal. The municipality will be putting it out to tender soon so the project can meet its June 2010 completion deadline.
“This kind of development can bring in a new clientele for merchants,” Li says of the benefit of supporting the project. “Before, merchants relied on teenagers driving their hot rods. We’re trying to encourage young families to come. Creating a more comfortable environment to come here and spend money.”