The second instalment of this year’s Speak Up! Thompson was held Oct. 17 at Burntwood Elementary School.
Session number two of the public forums was not as well attended as the first, though some pressing issues were brought forth by some key figures in the community, with Mayor Tim Johnston atoning for his absence at the first session by fielding many of the questions himself.
John Burrows, Thompson’s new recreation director, kicked off the evening’s discussion by commenting on the poor condition of much of the city’s sidewalks and that when travelling on foot, it’s often easier to walk on the grass.
Johnston explained that the political process had been taken out of sidewalk repair a few years ago.
“We did a study and addressed what sidewalks were in the most need and identified them as 10s and we’re working our way down,” said Johnston, “the key to that is, previous to that plan is was one-offs, so who complained the loudest; now that we have the plan, on an annual basis our job is to allocate the resources.”
In total the city has 45.6 kilometres of sidewalk and in the last three years only 2.4 kilometres have been replaced. Much of the problem with the sidewalks lies in the fact that they were built to a standard in the 1950s when the minimum width of a sidewalk was three metres, while today’s code is 3.5 metres or wider.
Coun. Luke Robinson added that the city is working to make sidewalks more user-friendly as well as handicap accessible.
Thompson Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation’s Blake Ellis housing co-ordinator spoke up about the need for affordable housing in Thompson, while also commending the mayor and council for their support of the Our Home Kikinaw project.
“Here’s the message on housing, what you see being built today was dealt with three years ago,” said Johnston, “we constantly have to be two to three years ahead of what you’re seeing. We were so far behind that you’re just now starting to see that construction.”
Johnston drilled home the point that it is not the City of Thompson that builds housing, and that it’s in the hands of investors, but that the job of council was to create an environment to entice those investors.
Coun. Penny Byer also chimed in on the housing issue, making note that it wasn’t just affordable housing that was needed.
“I think one of the main things we need to start taking a look at is starter homes,” said Byer, “some places for young couples, not everyone has high-paying jobs. We also need senior-assisted housing, I’ve talked to some people older than me that love Thompson and would love to stay in Thompson but as they get older and they may not be as capable as they used to be, they’re looking for a particular type of housing, there’s no reason we can’t have a retirement village in Thompson. I was recently talking to some people who moved to Ste. Anne because they have a retirement village there, everything that they talk about of how wonderful in Ste. Anne, they have that in Thompson, people are leaving on the perception that they can’t retire here.”
Thompson Chamber of Commerce President Linda Markus brought up a point that has been looked at numerous times since the inception of the Thompson Economic Diversification Working Group (TEDWG), and that is the need to grow the business community.
“People are coming here but can’t get the things they need,” said Markus, “the potential of this business community is not being realized.”
Johnston harkened back to the need to create an environment that will bring businesses to Thompson and attract investors.
“I was talking to an investor who came and said he needed 40 acres of land to build a complex, we didn’t have that land,” said Johnston, “what we have now done is we are bringing land in, we just had the discussion to bring in three parcels of land, one will be called Yale-Newman, which is 85 acres, Weir Road we’re doing some industrial and residential, and then Station Grounds we’ll do some industrial. Our job is to ensure the land is available so that investors will come where they can make money and I can tell you that the investors are moving out of Winnipeg and into the smaller communities.”