Metalworks the kind of project we should cheer

September 17, 2015


The yuppies are coming, and that’s a good thing.

Ground was officially broken last week on the ambitious Metalworks project, which aims to redevelop the eight-acre former W.C. Wood site on Arthur Street into a 600-unit urban village complete with park land, commercial space, condos and townhomes.

Critics complain that it will change the character of the community around it. And it doesn’t take much imagining to see the flocks of young, latte-sipping hipsters updating their Instagram accounts with ironic hashtags, taking over the old Ward neighbourhood en masse.

Phase 1 plans for the condominium towers include a “pet spa” and yoga zones inside the Metalworks fitness centre. If they can build a Lululemon shop and a Starbucks across the street, I’m pretty sure people’s heads will start to explode.

But all joking aside, the Metalworks project is exactly the kind of development we ought to be cheering. Turning a sprawling vacant lot into a residential community with hundreds of people who will shop, eat and be entertained in the downtown core is a good thing for Guelph.

Neighbourhoods continue to evolve, and prosperous cities continue to grow.

Although growth projections can be a risky business, estimates peg this city’s population at about 175,000 within 15 years. Even if that’s on the high side, we know there will be thousands more people living in Guelph in the very near future, and they’re going to need new places to call home.

Mayor Cam Guthrie told those assembled at last week’s sod-turning ceremony for Metalworks that the project will generate 36 times the tax revenue for the city than it had been as idle land. So even if you hate the sight of condos being built, you can’t shake a stick at what they do for city coffers.

The transformation of Guelph’s downtown has been happening for some time and the Metalworks project is just the latest step. Guthrie sees another five potential sites in the downtown core where highrise condos could be built, and possibly even more.

Empty former manufacturing sites do nothing for a community. These infill projects give new life to dead land and save the rest of us the costs of subsiding sprawl into new residential areas at the fringes of the city.

And while we might joke about an invasion of yuppies, it’s not just young people moving downtown. Plenty of retired couples and empty-nesters are selling their four-bedroom homes in the suburbs and are embracing Guelph’s increasing urban lifestyle in the downtown core.

The Metalworks project is the creation of Fusion Homes, the company started by former University of Guelph student Lee Piccoli, who quit school a few credits shy of his degree but clearly has the acumen to seize on an opportunity when he sees one in this growing city.

At the sod-turning, Piccoli praised the Ward Residents’ Association, the community group that offered feedback on the Metalworks project and ultimately helped shaped the final versions of the development.

The citizens group could have gone into battle mode and fought the project at every turn, but instead chose to work with the developer, who to his credit altered early designs to meet their concerns.

It’s nice to see that kind of co-operation between developers and residents on a project that will undoubtedly change Guelph’s landscape.

I guess, when it comes to our ever-evolving city, they both agree if you can’t beat ‘em, you might as well join ‘em.

-Guelph Mercury, Sept. 12, 2015

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