Waterfront splash

Kudos: Survey shows residents are for the most part pleased with common council's performance on important file

SAINT JOHN - The Port City's waterfront is looking good and residents are taking notice, Bill MacMackin says. There's a new cruise ship terminal, which helped welcome nearly 190,000 passengers this season.


Bill MacMackin, left, and Charlie Swanton of Saint John Waterfront Development are pleased about the construction of Irving Oil’s world headquarters, whose steel pilings can be seen behind them on Long Wharf.

There's Harbour Passage winding along the water's edge. There's new housing development at Bentley Street and Chesley Drive.

And with the towering steel pilings of the proposed new Irving Oil headquarters at Long Wharf, there's a hint of what's yet to come.

It all brings a smile to the face of MacMackin, the president of Saint John Waterfront Development.

"We all take the most pride and draw our conclusions on the tangible changes we see," he said. "If we're seeing improvements, that directly reflects on council and the work they're doing."

It seems Saint John-area residents credit common council for improvements to the waterfront, too.

In a recent survey conducted by Corporate Research Associates for the Telegraph-Journal, 41 per cent of those polled gave city representatives a grade of "good" for their performance on waterfront development.

Five per cent said "excellent," 25 per cent said "only fair," and nine per cent said "poor." The rest had no opinion.

MacMackin said the Inner Harbour Land Use Plan, adopted in 2003, has a lot to do with the changes residents see.

The plan called for a strong system of connected, high-quality public spaces to form a framework for private development along the waterfront.

"We've got to keep the focus on that plan to make sure we make some progress each year," he said.

The next big step will be to develop the Coast Guard site beside Market Slip uptown, he said.

The Hardman Group, which also owns Market Square, wants to buy the site and build 40 to 60 high end condominiums as the first phase of a big, mixed development.

There will also be enhancements to Harbour Passage around Reversing Falls, he said.

The city should then start to see payback in the form of tax-base growth, he added.

"The reason for doing all this was to make a nicer community - an uptown and inner city people were drawn to," he said. "We also felt it would lead to development. The city deserves to see a little return on their investment."

It's no wonder residents are becoming happier with their waterfront, said Bob Manning, chairman of Enterprise Saint John.

"We've never had the access to the waterfront we enjoy now - at least not in my mind," he said. "We've got some very, very good things going on right now, and people see that and they appreciate it."

Capt. Al Soppitt, president and chief executive of the Saint John Port Authority, said while the improvements have been great, there is still some work to do.

"The Coast Guard site will be key to the waterfront," he said. "That's going to be the centrepiece."

He said the city needs to continue moving forward with harbour cleanup, and the new police station and parking garage at Peel Plaza to bring life to the core.

"We've seen evidence with that just with the cruise ship terminal on Water Street," he said. "It's revitalized the area."

He said protecting port assets and cleaning up Partridge Island are also on his radar.

An important part of those port assets is the former sugar refinery site, which the port authority says is contaminated, warned Brian Stone, of the citizens group Fair Taxes First.

The port would receive the land as part of the Long Wharf deal. If the federal government approves the deal, the city will sell the land to Irving Oil for $1.2 million. The company would then trade the land to the port authority for part of Long Wharf for its new headquarters.

Stephen Chase, deputy mayor, said he agrees council has done well with waterfront development.

"When you think about Harbour Passage, the cruise ship terminal, the housing at Bentley Crossing, the Irving headquarters proposal - it's all very exciting and it's been a tremendous transformation for this city," he said.

"And it was born with a vision and with the political will to see it happen. That's really resonated with the public."

The public opinion survey was conducted from Sept. 4 to 15 with a random sample of 403 residents, aged 18 years or older, from Saint John and the surrounding area. Overall results are accurate within 4.9 percentage points, 95 per cent of the time.


Source: Published Tuesday November 3rd, 2009 Telegraph Journal