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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Downtown Core Summit a success!

London Mayor Joe Fontana makes an enthusiastic pitch for the future of downtown.
London Mayor Joe Fontana kicked off the Downtown Core Summit by posing a challenging question to the crowd of more than two hundred assembled at Covent Garden Market Wednesday: "Are we ready to rebuild downtown London?"

And for many in the large crowd, the answer was a resounding "yes."

The attendees were drawn from the ranks of business and government, and even from the general public. Possibly the largest property owner in the core, real estate mogul Shmuel Farhi, was there. But this group was not as diverse as one might think: They all shared a love of London and a desire to see the downtown a healthy, vital part of the city again.

The focus of the event was London's aging city hall. Should the decades old building be kept and its useful life extended by leasing downtown office space; Should the present building be patched up and enlarged; Should the city simply build a new city hall? These were the three options originally on the table.

But Wednesday night's brain-storming session may have enlarged the number of options. For instance, Alan Cowey, CEO of Ashfield Group Inc., has his own creative vision for the core. His dream proposal sees city hall being moved to the site of the present London Life complex. He would retain the elegant, historic facade but gut the core of the aging complex. The new city hall would rise from this hollow shell.

London Life today may no longer require the large footprint of its present operations and would be encouraged to move a short distance and build new.

Bud and Paul Gowan watch Alan Cowey sketch his dream.
Cowey's dream was infectious. He had the others at his table, among them Phil McLeod , Bud Gowan and his son Paul, all hunched over the aerial map of downtown London that decorated every table, while he gave form to his well-thought out vision. He quickly and dramatically put his creative thoughts to paper using a large felt-tip pen perfect for his large, dramatic ideas.

Drawing heavy lines through Clarence Street above Dufferin Avenue and through Kent Street as well. Cowey said he'd close these. Clarence is a dead end already, he explained.

But the Downtown Core Summit was not a dead end; With the caliber of people attending, it was clearly a beginning.

Councillor Judy Bryant closing the very successful Downtown Core Summit.

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