BY SOUTHGREY.CA STAFF –
On Tuesday, January 9, Southgate CAO Dave Milliner hosted the last of three public consultations to collect feedback on the fate of Dundalk’s Olde Town Hall. Approximately 30 councillors, municipal staff, ratepayers and interested visitors crowded the Hall’s lower level to hear the many options under consideration. Highlights of the Olde Town Hall Task Force report released in July, 2014 were discussed with options including restoration, private sale and demolition. Cost estimates for restoration ranged from $1 to $6 million.
Although impressed with the turnout for this meeting, Milliner lamented that for all of the efforts shown by the municipality to engage citizens, very little interest on the matter had been previously expressed. He noted that before this evening, there seemed to be little support from the public to save the building “at any cost”.
The 220 seat theatre has not been used since 2014.
Once a vibrant part of downtown, the aging building became a liability when load occupancy issues forced the Dundalk Little Theatre to find other accommodations in 2014. Many in attendance noted the historical significance of the building and reminisced about past performances and family movie nights held in the facility. Notes from a 1987 council meeting read by an audience member seemed to indicate that a Heritage Property designation had been bestowed on the structure, although it remained unclear if official registration for Heritage status was ever completed.
To the surprise and delight of many, the crowd in the room showed overwhelming support to save the building. Mary Redmond, editor of the Dundalk Herald and Samantha Parent, stalwart of the Dundalk Chamber of Commerce, explained their efforts to connect with local restoration professionals and solicit a second opinion on the task force’s previous cost estimates. It was explained that 350 people have already signed a petition, all of whom were willing to donate funds and/or participate in an initiative to bring the building back to life.
Many people hailed the importance of the Olde Town Hall in creating a vibrant downtown and noted the development of approximately 700 to 800 new homes in Southgate over the next 10 years which will bring a welcome influx of cash and human resources to Dundalk. Milliner explained that while these homes will add funds to the Township, new residents will also bring the necessity for service upgrades. The CAO revealed plans for a welcoming package that provided a good opportunity to reach out to these newcomers for fundraising support of a Town Hall project.
Some people in attendance mentioned that similar projects have been undertaken in other locations including Teeswater and Meaford and that advice and expertise could be garnered from those experiences. The sale of the building to a non-profit group with an arm’s length relationship to the Township was also discussed. It was explained that viable business models had been successfully brokered with regards to the Holstein Optimist Hall and Dundalk’s Erskine Church. In each of these cases, facilities are managed by a non-profit organization with support from Southgate Township.
The theatre has many architectural details including a tin ceiling and medallions.
Modest apprehension was expressed by Milliner about the theatre as a viable business in Dundalk. This was answered by one resident who referenced the famous quote from Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.”
Mayor Anna-Marie Fosbrooke addressed the crowd at the end of the meeting to thanked them for attending. “This is excellent feedback,” she said. “I didn’t want to hear if we wanted to keep the Town Hall but how to keep it.” Fosbrooke rhetorically asked, “what are the benefits, both tangible and intangible," explaining that benefits don't necessarily show up on the bottom line and talked about advantages to the community and indirect consequences of rescuing the facility and holding youth events there, such as cost savings in law enforcement by example.
Although it was still too early in the process to determine the level of support from council for restoration of the building, a staff report summarizing public feedback and recommendations is expected to be presented to Southgate Council in February. Names were taken and the formation of a new sub-committee to explore options discussed at this meeting seemed likely.
To add your feedback on Dundalk's Olde Town Hall, visit the online petition.
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