Friday, May 24, 2024

Where’s the Money?  Another missed opportunity

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By David Chess

Stratford had fallen into the category of Distressed Community and only recently came off the list.

Last week the Mayor called a sudden special meeting to unveil a potential development project at the Shakespeare Park. The Shakespeare site has been dormant since 1985.  It has been 4 years since the fire, and in that time there have been numerous proposals that have been made to the Mayor’s office for site development.

Site development does not mean the loss of our park and the open space we enjoy there. It means creating venues that will support performance and community participation.

The Mayor presented a plan over the last two weeks.  She states it is just a “concept”.

The plan includes the following developments in stages:

  • Wiring and piping to establish an electrical foundation to support events and food trucks and bathrooms. This will cost about $1,000,000
  • Creating an Amphitheater which can accommodate up to 2000 people – this will cost about $3,000,000, and wouldn’t be done for some time (no specifics)
  • A “black box” community performance room adjacent to the white house which will cost about $7,000,000 and would not be built till funds are procured (indefinite)

Stratford is blessed with a great location and great people. However, its history of development and recognizing its potential is poor. Its ability to generate revenue is poor.

Towns around us are much more affluent and have created revenue bases that are deeper and stronger than ours for the population we have. Our taxes continue to go up and services, especially our public schools, are underfunded.

We have Army Plants sitting dormant for 30 + years. Shakespeare property dormant for 30+ years.

Now all of a sudden with elections looming a vanilla plan is urgently presented that addresses some of what the community wants, but does not address our urgent need for revenues.  Additionally, the Mayor makes it clear that the simple plan presented will take years to develop, if at all.

There is another plan that has been placed in her hands, one that would require no tax-payer dollars and no risk, and would create a replication of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, built timber-framed, as the original Globe was. Why build a new theater? To create a destination, and to bring in tourists who are eager to spend money in Stratford. THIS WORKS.

Other destination theater cities thrive all over the country. One of the closest and most successful is in a small town in Ontario, Canada, also named Stratford. Stratford, ON has been transformed from an industrial rail city to an entertainment and destination capital. The town sees nearly $90 million in economic impact annually from the theater festival.

Is it time for a town referendum where proposals are shared with the entire community and the community has a chance to vote?

We are tired of being a distressed community. This opportunity doesn’t need to be lost.

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