City Hall asked for the public’s thoughts on a well-known downtown eyesore, and it is getting them.
Just over a week since Brockville officials launched an online survey gauging the public’s preferences for the former Woolworth’s store on King Street West, City Hall had received 689 responses, Rob Nolan, the city’s director of economic and development services, said Monday.
Officials are pleased with the level of initial response, Nolan said in another interview late last week.
“It’s an important piece of property in our community and it’s been in need of some attention for some time,” he added.
Mayor Jason Baker last week called the initial response “a very positive start.”
The city recently paid $500,000 to acquire the former Woolworth’s building.
The deal came with a similarly sized tax receipt, allowing the Regional Group of Companies, the building’s former owners, to recoup more of the balance between the city’s offer and its asking price. The deal closed on Dec. 22.
The building was home to the Woolworth’s store, which closed in 1993. The Regional Group bought it in August 2002 and its tenant, Liquidation World, operated there until it closed in January 2004.
City council in February 2013 gave the Regional Group approval to redevelop the site into a self-service storage facility, as well as four new retail spaces.
But not long after that, the owners judged that project not to be financially viable.
The site has remained undeveloped and is again showing signs of age, which the city hopes to remedy in part with window wraps.
The city plans to issue a request for proposals (RFP) from potential developers who would revitalize the site. The online citizen survey aims to gauge the public’s preferences for potential uses.
In practice, the city requires all development at the ground level on King Street to be commercial; while the upper floor could be residential, developers might also look at other options.
The online survey is built around those potential uses deemed realistic or viable.
“We’re being pretty focused with it,” Nolan said, adding the goal is to evaluate and rank potential uses of the site based on the public’s response. “We tried not to be too open-ended.”
For instance, one question asks respondents to rank five potential uses by order of priority: A retail store, commercial office space, residential, public uses, and parking.
City officials also ask the public to rank evaluation criteria for developers by order of importance. Criteria include financial viability, developer experience, and the potential uses the developers suggest. Under public use, suggestions include a gallery, market, or community meeting space “which would draw users to the downtown.”
The potential for a residential component drew particular attention from city council members at a discussion earlier this month.
They stopped short of suggesting that the scoring for the eventual RFP be adjusted to encourage affordable housing in the eventual project. Instead, the package will include wording denoting the city’s interest in affordable housing.
Members also softened language on public use and parking.
City Hall might send signals to developers on the desirability of affordable housing without being prescriptive, Nolan suggested.
Area residents are invited to fill out the survey until Mar. 5. Staff is expected to return with the final draft RFP on Mar. 23.