One down and two to go.
That’s the thinking of Mayor Graydon Smith when it comes to major capital projects in Bracebridge. The one down being the fire hall, which opened in the fall, and the two to go being a new arena and a new library.
Mayor Smith recently took a few minutes to discuss what he sees as the Town’s biggest steps forward in 2017, what’s ahead in 2018 and whether he plans to seek a third term as mayor.
Smith says one of the single most important moves made in 2017, and one that will impact the community for generations to come, was the purchase of the Timber Mart property along the Muskoka River in downtown Bracebridge.
“The feedback that I received on that was almost universally positive,” says Smith. “It gives everyone the chance to use their imagination as far what the downtown could be in the future”
The property, which totals just over four acres, was purchased in May for $3 million. The Town also owns a considerable swath of land on the opposite side of the river, which includes Woodchester Villa, and Smith says the purchase opened up new windows of opportunity that were not available before.
The property is currently being leased to the Timber Mart for the next two to five years while they search for a suitable location.
“There are some planning exercises and some dreaming exercises. We’ve got a bit of time to work on that,” says Smith.
Just last month, the Bracebridge Fire Department moved into their new home on Taylor Road, a building they share with Muskoka Paramedic Services.
“The community can take a lot of pride in that. It’s a beautiful building but also a functional building,” says Smith. “They do an incredible amount of training and this will allow them to do that better. I think, frankly, it also serves as a recruitment tool for our volunteer force.”
Smith says another project that will continue to benefit the community for many years is the full implementation of the public transportation system.
“It’s not everything for everyone – it’s one bus on a one hour loop but we have to start somewhere,” says Smith. “It’s opened up opportunities for people in the community who maybe were facing challenges in the past.”
Acquiring a second bus would be the next logical step in the growth of the system, but the mayor says that could still be some time off.
As for 2018, Smith says there likely won’t be a significant amount of work done on any major capital projects. The arena and library will likely remain at the planning or site preparation stages while the Town investigates what funding might be available from the federal or provincial governments.
“We want to get this project to a place where we can access that funding,” says Smith. “We’ve been doing a lot of building and spending money that we believe will help the community in the future but we realize there is only one taxpayer and we need to be as fiscally responsible as we can.”
What Bracebridge residents can expect to see this year is a continued surge in development, says Smith.
“We’ve seen a reinvigoration of the economy locally over the past few years,” he says.
“There are more businesses on the main street, more houses being built, more commercial properties being built putting people to work. We have a medical marijuana facility that will be ready to go in 2018. That’s going to put people to work.”
There will also be significant planning ventures underway this year, including work on a strategic plan early in the year, as well as a recreation and trails master plan.
The future of the South Muskoka Memorial Hospital continues to be a huge question mark looming over the community and Smith said the public can expect to start getting some answers by the first half of 2018
“It’s a long process and everybody wants the comfort of the answer they’re seeking to have occurred two years ago,” he says. “What’s different from 2015 to 2018 is that there’s engagement on the municipal side now and our voice is part of the conversation. What we expect and need we’re making very clear.”
As for his own future and perhaps a third term as mayor, Smith isn’t ready to reveal what this plans are for the fall municipal election.
“I don’t really have any comment on that at this time, other than to say it’s been a pleasure…and I’ve loved every second of it, “ he says. “I’ll decide on that a little bit later in the year.”