Windsor polishes up Amazon bid with incentives, regional transit
Thursday, October 5, 2017
The Windsor Star/Brian Cross
Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens has made two major plays in recent weeks to enhance the Detroit-Windsor bid for Amazon’s second headquarters.
The Star has learned that the reason an earlier-than-expected special council meeting was called for last Friday to deal with the downtown’s long-anticipated community improvement plan, was so the CIP’s incentives for downtown investment — for a big new office building, for example — are enshrined prior to Amazon’s Oct. 19 deadline.
“I think it’s fair to say we did expedite approval of the CIP for Amazon,” said Dilkens, who’s reluctant to say more due to a news blackout that’s been imposed on the highly charged Detroit-Windsor bid.
Also, Dilkens has been reaching out to the county’s seven municipalities, trying to get a commitment to a regional transit system. It’s something that Amazon deems a major requirement for its new location and a weak point for both Detroit and Windsor. “One of the areas we can strengthen is regional transit,” the mayor said.
Windsor’s efforts over the years to spread bus service out to the county has been met largely with disinterest.
That changed Sept. 1 when LaSalle began a transit service through the town, run by Transit Windsor and linking to the Windsor transit system with no extra charge to transfer. Tecumseh also has a contracted bus service that stops at Windsor’s Tecumseh Mall, though riders have to pay extra to get on a Transit Windsor bus.
In recent weeks, both Lakeshore and Amherstburg have responded positively to Dilkens’ request.
What Dilkens is asking for is a commitment from the municipalities that, if Amazon chooses Detroit-Windsor, they’re on board with a regional transit system.
“We really need all of the municipalities in Essex County to say: ‘We’re behind this 100 per cent,’” said Dilkens. “That’s what we need to show Amazon.”
Of the remaining municipalities, Essex and Kingsville have received Windsor’s request and will deal with it at an upcoming meeting, the mayor said.
Attempts to reach Leamington Mayor John Patterson Wednesday to find out his town’s position were not successful.
“We need the other municipalities to see the benefits of this and the huge, huge impact this would have on the entire region, it stands to change the face of the entire region,” Dilkens said, referring to Windsor’s share of 50,000 jobs at Amazon HQ2.
Many employees of Windsor’s big employers, such as Fiat Chrysler, Caesars Windsor and the hospitals, live in the county, he said. The same would hold true for Amazon employees. “That’s why we need everyone’s support as we’re putting together the bid documents.”
As for the downtown CIP, Dilkens wouldn’t go into details about which of its incentives would be most attractive to Amazon if it were to locate part of its Detroit-Windsor operation in the downtown. A big one, however, would clearly be annual grants that effectively forgive the additional property taxes charged on a new development, for up to 10 years.
A regional transit system doesn’t necessarily need to follow the LaSalle model, in which LaSalle pays for Transit Windsor to run buses through the town and keeps the fares to partly offset the cost.
“Whatever form regional transit takes — so people can move seamlessly back and forth between Windsor and their home municipality — that’s what we’re looking for,” said Dilkens.
“If the prospect of having Amazon’s headquarters in the City of Windsor is not a catalyst for all municipalities in Essex County to come on board with a regional transit system, then we’ll never have a hope of getting a regional transit system.”
LaSalle Mayor Ken Antaya said that so far the response to having Transit Windsor in town, especially from teens and seniors, is “beyond my expectations.”
He’s received nothing but good comments from residents. “Not lukewarm comments — really good comments,” Antaya said. “In fact, we’re even hearing some criticism that: ‘Hey, we want you to expand it, expand the hours, more stops.’ That’s all good, constructive criticism.”
Transit Windsor’s executive director Pat Delmore said he believes LaSalle’s positive experience will serve as a business case for other municipalities considering a transit service. It’s in very preliminary talks with Amherstburg, and expects to begin talks with Lakeshore in the coming months.
“We think there are lots of opportunities within the entire region,” said Delmore, who added there is demand for service in such county employment pockets as Lakeshore’s Patillo Road, Tecumseh’s Oldcastle and Leamington’s greenhouse operations.
Lakeshore recently sent a letter to Windsor expressing its commitment to exploring a regional transit system between Windsor, Lakeshore and Tecumseh.
“We’ve looked at it many times over the years and now is the time to take another solid good look at it,” said Lakeshore Deputy Mayor Al Fazio, citing the rising demand that’s come with the explosion of residential growth. He said town council wrote the letter to help Windsor entice Amazon. “But it’s not just that. It’s a service we need in Lakeshore anyway.”
He said he’d like a service similar to LaSalle’s, one that links into Windsor’s system. But it has to include Tecumseh, because of Tecumseh’s location between Lakeshore and Windsor.
“I think Tecumseh’s the key, I really do.”