Mayor dreams of 'Parisian feel' for corridors linking downtown, university

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

The Windsor Star/Doug Schmidt


If there’s an arterial road in Windsor ready-made for transformation into a smart stretch of progressive urban boulevard living, it’s the wide asphalt ribbon that is University Avenue west of the downtown.

City council on Monday is expected to unleash big financial incentives on developers to help transform two major, yet somewhat dilapidated, arterial corridors connecting the downtown to the University of Windsor.

The city’s sixth community improvement plan will focus on targeting new development and property upgrades along parallel two-kilometre stretches of University Avenue West and Wyandotte Street West. Architectural concept drawings show wide sidewalks and off-street strips of shade trees, planters and other greenery next to dedicated bike lanes or other ribbons of active transportation. Ground-level commercial developments are topped by residential offerings.

“What we’re really trying to show is a Parisian feel, with residential supporting commercial,” said Mayor Drew Dilkens.

The aspirational example of the people-crowded city streets of the French capital was described last summer by Ward 2 Coun. Fabio Costante. Administration’s final report and recommendations on the newest CIP are unlikely to face much if any opposition next week, with Ward 3 Coun. Rino Borotolin among those last year expressing the view that its approval will trigger a positive transformation of the area west of the downtown.

“It will send a signal to developers that the city is willing to be a partner,” Dilkens told the Star Tuesday, adding that the municipality’s support when it comes to community investment plans is “only a fraction of the overall investment.”

Among the incentives to be offered along the two thoroughfares:

  • 100-per-cent forgiveness on all municipal development fees (for such costs as planning approvals and building permits), up to $50,000 per property;
  • 50-per-cent cost share by the city (up to $20,000) for street-side commercial/mixed-use building façade improvements;
  • municipal tax rebates effectively erasing any increases due to the increased property value that new development brings for a five-year period (or up to 10 years for “catalyst” projects).

The latter, said Dilkens, has attracted “millions and millions and millions” in new private development investment just in the downtown.

“We won’t see every CIP (project) materialize, but we will see many, and each one spurs the next person — there’s a domino effect,” he said.

Returns thus far have been so impressive, said the mayor, that city council has approved budgeting additional funds for Windsor’s community improvement project areas. The staff report that council will deal with on Monday states the incentives for the new CIP remain unfunded as of now, but Dilkens said that shouldn’t be an issue.

Two large projects on University Avenue are already in line for the new CIP incentives — the $100-million Fairmount Properties “mixed-used international village” with up to 500 housing units targeted for the former Grace hospital site; and AIPL’s $35-million Graffiti project to restore three historic properties and add a 133-unit condo complex. The mayor describes both as “anchor investments” that will serve as catalysts to lure other developer interest.

Community improvement plans, and the incentives a municipality can provide through them, are “the single-best tool that council has to unlock economic potential,” said Dilkens.

While there are a number of vacant or under-utilized properties along both corridors that provide “major opportunities for co-ordinated redevelopment,” the staff report also points to healthy existing and well-established pockets of residential and commercial properties with low vacancy rates, like the strip of privately owned small businesses, restaurants and bars along Wyandotte Street immediately east of the university’s main campus. Further east along that corridor, Dilkens is still keen on something like the ‘Asian Village’ concept he proposed several years ago.

Completing the vision for both important thoroughfares, which also provide the link for many students between the university’s main campus and its growing downtown presence, will “no doubt” take years, said the mayor. “We want to move students seamlessly between those campuses.”

Asked how soon developers might begin showing interest in the new CIP after council’s consideration on Monday, Dilkens responded: “Within 30 days, you can start seeing applications.”