$500,000 boost for Harbour Passage

'SAINT JOHN - It was like a scene out of the 1990s Wednesday as Frank McKenna addressed a crowd of business leaders and local politicians to announce funding for a major initiative.

Strolling on Harbour Passage Wednesday are, left to right, Bill MacMackin, vice-chairman of Saint John Waterfront Development; Frank McKenna, deputy chairman of TD Bank Financial Group; Charles Swanton of Waterfront Development and Ed Clark, CEO of TD Bank.

McKenna, who now serves as deputy chairman of the TD Bank Financial Group, showed he still knows how to dominate a room. Almost a dozen years after leaving the premier's office, he was back in the spotlight, once again delivering big-time funding and promising to bring more jobs to Saint John.

The money he delivered on the bank's behalf was significant - $500,000 for enhancements to Harbour Passage.

McKenna and other senior management officials are in the city for the bank's annual general meeting that gets underway this morning at the Saint John Trade and Convention Centre.

"TD's here for the next two or three days and we're going to paint the town green," McKenna said to roaring applause. "It's not just the corporate colour of TD that's green, it's bred right into the culture of the organization. And because of that, as part of each year's (annual general meeting), we take an exceptional environmental project that will have exceptional merit in the host community."

McKenna went on to explain the bank's contribution will be used by Saint John Waterfront Development to build 'environmental interpretation hubs' along Harbour Passage. The themes will include detailed explanations on the water supply, habitat preservation and wildlife on the popular trail that runs alongside Saint John Harbour.

"Today's announcement marks an important step toward the 'greening' of Harbour Passage with the establishment of these environmental interpretation and education eco-hubs. This should create a first-class attraction, increase environmental awareness and encourage dialogue among the people in the community about the wonderful place they live."

Last week, in an interview about this week's annual meeting, McKenna said the bank expects to add 150 jobs in the coming years to the 270 it currently has at its TD Meloche Monnex site on Rothesay Avenue.

"It always feels good coming home and being able to deliver something," he said Wednesday. "A year or two ago, I was able to come here and announce that we were placing several hundred more jobs in Saint John at the Meloche Monnex centre we have ... every time I can come home and bring something it makes me feel wonderful."

McKenna was especially proud of the waterfront project because of its 'green' nature and the fact that it will be an outdoor project that will encourage physical fitness.

"This project has such great community support and is so inspiring," he said. "We'll see the benefit very quickly. I like it a lot and I'd like to walk it as soon as I can. As everybody knows, I like to walk and when I'm in New Brunswick I like to go out on trails whenever I can, so I'll make a point of coming here and spending some time on Harbour Passage."

McKenna heaped plenty of praise on Saint John, noting the positive vibe in the city helped him bring the bank's annual meeting to town, and with it about $1 million in economic spinoffs.

"The Canadian Construction Association says this will be the hottest place in the country for the next five years and you see the magnitude of the plans that are on the books, with announcements such as Costco and our own plans here - opening a Waterhouse facility last year and we'll be opening a new branch in the coming year. This is a city that's on the move and everybody notices. Right now the unemployment rate in Saint John is lower than both Toronto and Montreal, so people notice."

Bill MacMackin, vice-chairman of Saint John Waterfront Development, said the contribution was welcome.

"It will provide opportunities to build six unique eco-hubs across Harbour Passage that will help us 'green' the environment. It will give us a chance to learn about the unique ecosystems around us," MacMackin said.

"Each hub will focus on a different aspect, whether it's air quality, water quality, erosion, marine ecology. The objective is to build each one of them ... to help educate our youth and to provide playground spaces for kids to learn and be active."

Work will begin almost immediately, MacMackin said, and the first is slated to be built at Pugsley Park, at the foot of Princess Street. They also hope to include another at Rainbow Park, a south end project that might proceed this year.

Tim Vickers, executive director of Atlantic Coastal Action Plan (ACAP) Saint John, said his group will be looking for public input as the planning stages for the eco-hubs move forward.

"We'd like the public and our stakeholders to grab this and get engaged. We listen to what the community says to us, that's where some of the best ideas come from.

"Harbour Passage is still not fully appreciated by the public in terms of what a gem we have in the city," Vickers said, adding the vote of confidence from the bank should make residents in the area more aware of the trail.

Source April 2, 2009- Telegraph Journal