The Brockville Railway Tunnel Plaque
When it comes to the historic railway tunnel revitalization project, city council is almost all aboard – at least for the first stop.
Council voted Tuesday night in favour of contributing $300,000 toward the project, over a four-year period, and including it on its list of capital priorities.
The money will go toward the repair and renovation of what is deemed Canada’s oldest railway tunnel, which runs under city hall from a point three blocks north of the building to Armagh S. Price Park. Councillor David LeSueur, chairman of the railway tunnel advisory committee, said after the vote the historic tunnel could put the city on the tourism map the same way the Magnetic Hill did for Moncton. “This will improve the economy. This will bring people,” said LeSueur.
Tuesday’s vote came after another pitch from tunnel committee members Brian Porter and Doug Grant. Porter acknowledged the project won’t be profitable as a tourist attraction on its own, but only as part of a “campus approach” with other venues such as the Aquatarium.
Grant said the tunnel is not meant only as a tourism attraction, but also as a “resource” for local residents to use for riding bikes or getting downtown.
“A tunnel is nothing if you can’t go into it,” said Grant.
Councillor David Beatty likened the group’s work to the success in the past decade of community efforts such as Project Encore, which led to the renovation of the Brockville Arts Centre, and the Thousand Islands Secondary School track project.
He expressed confidence in the advisory committee’s ability to raise the majority of the estimated $1.5 million needed for the project. “I think we’re going to be nicely surprised as well,” said Beatty. “It complements many of the tourism assets that we have in the community.” The community group needs financial support from the city before it can leverage other dollars from the community, added Councillor Leigh Bursey. Councillor Jeff Earle, meanwhile, reiterated skepticism about the project he expressed at last week’s finance committee meeting. While he likes the tunnel project, Earle said, he does not have enough information to back the motion. “Essentially, I’m buying a pig in a blanket. I just don’t want it to turn out to be a porcupine,” he said.
Councillors Mary Jean McFall and Tom Blanchard expressed similar skepticism. The latter, however, was swayed to support by Grant’s assertion the tunnel will be a community resource.
Councillors Jason Baker and Mike Kalivas were willing to support the motion, but warned they will not likely back any further outlay of city funds toward it.
“I will be disappointed if this project ends up escalating,” said Baker.
Mayor David Henderson also acknowledged some hesitation, but said his concern is to get the tunnel open.
Considering the project has languished for decades, the mayor believes supporting the process is the only way to ensure the tunnel will be repaired for public use.
Earle cast the lone dissenting vote and McFall abstained.
FACT BOX: FULL STEAM AHEAD
The motion city council approved Tuesday commits $75,000 a year to a railway tunnel reserve, for four years starting in 2014. The motion also places the project on the city’s 10-year capital priority list. Early estimates peg the cost of turning the tunnel into a tourist attraction at $1.5 million.
Republished from the Recorder and Times
By Ronald Zajac, Tuesday, March 26, 2013