The mayor’s future vision: jobs, tax freeze, public art

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Windsor Star/Craig Pearson

A riverfront cafe, a sculpture garden extended up Ouellette Avenue, a Riverside underpass, a more aesthetically pleasing E.C. Row Expressway, and more sports tourism — Mayor Drew Dilkens sees a lot of possibility in Windsor’s near future.

Looking forward through 2015 and beyond, Dilkens believes Windsor will continue to strengthen economically and bloom culturally — with one caveat. Nobody should expect new mega dollars committed to projects over the next four years, given his campaign promise to safeguard taxpayer cash.

Plus, he also hopes to pass Windsor’s seventh consecutive property tax rate freeze.

“In the next four years I don’t think we’re going to do anything with a big dollar amount,” he told The Star during a sit-down interview at the mayor’s office. “We have our dollars allocated for the next four years.”

Still, Dilkens thinks Windsor can do a lot to boost quality of life here.

“I really value arts and culture,” said Dilkens, a supporter of Windsor Light Music Theatre, among other organizations. “I like public art.”

He also likes the riverfront.

“We have one of the most beautiful riverfronts in the world that I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world,” Dilkens said. “But the opportunity we’re missing on the waterfront that I would like to change is that it is very passive today. I would like to add some more elements to make it a little more active.”

He’s toying with the idea of creating a beach volleyball feature along the water. And he wonders if the Bistro at the River, run by Naples Pizza, could add a waterfront element where visitors could sip a glass of wine or espresso overlooking the Detroit River while their children giggle nearby in updated playground facilities.

Also, he wants to share the wealth of the Windsor Sculpture Park.

“Can we take the sculpture garden and start expanding it up Ouellette or on another street?” he asked. “When you talk about taking public art and expanding it up form the waterfront — think of that with an underpass.”

So the underpass is still on the table, something Dilkens hopes will happen within this term of council.

That doesn’t mean he goes for every big idea. He says a canal is unlikely. Forget a floating pool.

But what about something that would make the riverfront particularly active, such as a marina?

“The marina is part of the ultimate equation and is still included in the central riverfront implementation plan,” the married father of two said. “The marina is not on the table in the next four years, I can tell you that much. But the underpass is.”

He also figures some interesting art pieces along E.C. Row would go a long way to sprucing up the city.

Dilkens is all about vision. As the best educated Windsor mayor ever — in August the 42-year-old lawyer earned a PhD in business administration from the International School of Management in Paris, to add to his collection of degrees — he likes to plan.

That’s why one of his first orders of business will be to start a 20-year vision process with councillors, imagining where the city can be in two decades, thanks to some bold thinking.

“I often think of places like Copenhagen, where 30 years ago they may have had a couple of simple bike lanes and they said,’We want to have the best cycling infrastructure of any city in the world.’ And they established a 30-year plan,” Dilkens said. “And guess what? They have the best cycling infrastructure of any city in the world.

“That’s the kind of thing I want council to consider: What do we want to be the best at in 20 years?”

Dilkens also hopes to attract more sports tourism, since he feels such events as the Red Bull Air Race, the Ontario Summer Games, and the FINA diving and swimming championships promote the city elsewhere and create civic pride at home.

Plus, he plans on focusing throughout the year on an old standby he considers essential: jobs. He promises to travel anywhere in the world if it will help bring back business investment.

That’s why he remains hopeful for 2015, bolstered by Yuletide cheer.

“There’s a feeling around Christmas for me and for my family, and I wish I could bottle that energy,” Dilkens said. “Whatever your spiritual celebration is, I just wish everyone the best of the season and most important of all, the best for 2015.”