Mayor Donaldson on 2013
GRAVENHURST MAYOR PAISLEY DONALDSON.
January 11, 2013
GRAVENHURST – 2011 was a difficult year for Gravenhurst.
Fires ravaged the main street, construction cut off access to the crumbling downtown core and businesses never seemed to get a strong foothold on the market. 2012, however, brought the winds of change; the downtown revitalization project, with funding from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, got underway, businesses leveled by flame began to rebuild and a host of festivals and events, many based around the 125th anniversaries of the town’s incorporation and the RMS Segwun’s first trips across Lake Muskoka.
“Looking back, I know the fantastic weather was a big part of it, but the town and the Segwun’s anniversaries and the new festivals (like Make a Splash) really brought a lot of people in to town for us; it was a huge year for us,” said Mayor Paisley Donaldson. “We also got to see the (YMCA) aquatic facility finally open and that means a lot to this town.”
The mayor said other personal highlights for her year included handing out more than 30 awards during the town’s 20th Community Spirit Awards ceremony in October and she said she was proud of the gains the municipality has made in opening lines of communication with the populace with the creation of ‘The Mayor’s Minute,” an online column. She’s taking that a step further in 2013, as starting Jan. 25, Mayor Donaldson will host open houses every fourth Friday of the month at the town hall from 9 a.m. until noon.
“It’s a chance for anyone who may have questions or want to discuss specific issues to come in and meet with me,” she explained.
Looking ahead to 2013, Donaldson said it should be another eventful year, with several new festivals coming in to town and a few major projects to dig into. While there won’t be any anniversary celebrations this coming summer, new festivals coming in to town include a major Muskoka Motorcycle Rally at the wharf, a star gazers’ night, and a new jazz and blues festival, while Make a Splash is set to return and the Antique and Classic Boat Show is expanding to at least three days and possibly four with their largest event to date.
She said one of the most important tasks for council in the year ahead will be starting the process with Infrastructure Ontario to determine the best future use of the Muskoka Centre property. A steering committee has been established but as of yet has not met and Donaldson said she hopes that will happen within the next month.
“We are very eager to start that process,” she said. “From council’s standpoint, our major hope is that whatever the solution is for the property, it will bring long-term, year-round jobs.
“Regardless of the issue, council wants to support economic development to really help Gravenhurst become a four-season destination,” she added, saying part of that goal will include continue to work with the town’s snowmobile economic development task force to improve town winter access and build on the tourism industry.
Donaldson said business development will continue to be a focus in 2013 as a way to build on the gains of 2012. The revitalization project will see some of its first draft plans released, including the streetscape and façade program that is being designed to help fund local business owners improving their store fronts.
A new streamlined development application process is coming into play this year that the mayor said should help ease people through their applications and make the experience much more efficient.
One of the major concerns the mayor has for local development is in relation to Highway 11, just south of town, where 25-year horizon plans by the Ministry of Transportation are to realign and expand the roadway.
“We don’t want that forgotten about,” she said. “We are trying to set up meetings with the minister but so far haven’t had any luck.
“With the (provincial) government out, it’s slowing down the process, but hopefully once that is settled we will see a little more action,” Donaldson added.
Although the 2013 budget is still in the early draft stages, there won’t be any major capital projects on facilities this year, save some work to the Terence Haight Carnegie Hall beside the opera house. Donaldson said some funds have been set aside in the past year from municipal land sales to help cover the costs of accessibility improvements there. She added the town is also in the middle of negotiations with the Chamber of Commerce to lease the building and added she looks forward to having the operation closer to the heart of the main drag.
“We’re working with that still and will hopefully have things settled shortly,” Donaldson said.
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