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A Call to Action

This is a call to action! It is time for Brantford to start speaking up loud and proud about our successes, about the things that, as a community, we have excelled at and lead the way for others to follow.  The most obvious example is the positive state of our revitalized downtown.

Much was made many years ago about the comment I made in a Toronto Star article that Brantford could have the "worst downtown in Canada."  What isn't remembered from that article is that for a whole page in the newspaper it was explained how our downtown ended up in this state, and how positive I/we were as a community that we would lead the way to revitalization.  There was a second full page article, a year or so later, that was only about the positive things happening, but the hundreds of words were negated by the four words.

The truth is, we probably did have the worst downtown in Canada fifteen years ago, and for those who don't remember, didn't live here at the time, or who didn't walk the streets, it was a ghost town --a veritable desert of commerce and activity.  But that decades-long decline and bottoming out of our downtown is now centre stage for our celebration of success; from the ashes, the Phoenix of downtown Brantford rises.

Let's begin by celebrating our greatest success – Laurier Brantford and Nipissing University as the cornerstones of a strong and vibrant urban campus.  10 years ago we negotiated a partnership with Wilfrid Laurier University to start a campus in the former Carnegie endowment library, a building that had sat empty for a decade or so.  (In fact, at the time we cut the deal, the only tenant we had to negotiate with was the hot dog cart guy from Victoria Park, because that is where he stored his cart at the end of the day.)

We started the campus by putting money from the sale of the icomm building to the province for the charity casino into the building and establishing a capital fund.  We started with 39 students. Let me share the scope of the Laurier Nipissing project with you and its incredible impact on our community as of this past week.

First, the building permits in the downtown, in the past 10 years Laurier Brantford and Nipissing University have applied for $37,997,000 of building permits. The permits are for numerous buildings throughout the core, and for a mixture of re-purposing heritage properties and new builds.  The largest of the permits is for the Academic and Research Centre at 150 Dalhousie; that is new building construction with a building permit value of $23,227,000.  Phase 1 of the Academic and Research Centre will open officially tomorrow Friday, January 21st.

The City of Brantford has been a partner in this process, but while it is often stated that the City has built the universities, in fact we have contributed $13,652,733 over that decade; $10,094,603 in grant and $3,558,130 in kind (value of donated buildings like the Carnegie building). 

What is really interesting is that of that $13,652,733, $161,793 is directly tax supported with another $1,100,000 coming from budget surplus. $6,386,547 came from the casino's community dividend, $2,446,262 came from the sale of land, with the remaining being in-kind donations to the value of the buildings. 

A fantastic return on our investment.

We must also factor in that Laurier and Nippissing have a large staff of academic and administration positions on its payroll, and many of these individuals are from the community or have chosen to live here.  The students have had a dramatic impact on the community from the Heads and Beds tax which will contribute $1,499,025 to the community this year, to their financial input from just living in the community – rent for accommodation, purchase of food and beverages, purchase of clothing, transportation etc.  It is reasonably estimated that students will pump over $12,000,000 into our economy this year.

The success of the universities in the downtown is a story that we should be trumpeting across Canada.  I recently listened to out-of-town design consultants sing the praises of our downtown as a remarkable success story, and a sweet song of revitalization that almost every city in Canada would love to be able sing.  Brantford has the most intriguing, most revitalized, most dynamic and exciting downtown happening in Canada today.

Are we done?  No, not at all.  Can we relax now?  No, there is much still to be done, and we can never take our success for granted, but there is always a time to start celebrating, and that time is now.
The call to action is for the average person in Brantford to get behind our success and start to spread the word inside and outside the community -- a call to action to speak up and speak positive for Brantford.