A proposal to move Oshawa’s Canada Day celebrations to downtown opened a floodgate of debate at a recent committee meeting.
The Downtown Oshawa BIA has asked the city to consider moving events from Lakeview Park in 2020.
Amanda Rylott and Ivano Labricciosa spoke to councillors regarding the request on Sept. 16.
Rylott said the ask is for one year only to recognize the 50th anniversary of downtown BIAs in Ontario.
“It’s not a permanent relocation. We think there are really good, positive reasons to do this,” Labricciosa said.
Rylott explained a recent survey of members indicated downtown businesses want larger events in the area, and the move would be beneficial for both the city and the BIA.
Using its resources, the BIA could open up more funding and sponsorship opportunities for the event, Rylott stated.
Large scale events in the downtown core have already proved to be viable through the annual Kars on King, Labricciosa said.
The BIA has “conservatively” budgeted $20,000 for the event, adds executive director Amanda MacDonald.
The community services committee voted three to two to refer the matter to staff for a report.
Ward 4 city councillor Derek Giberson, Ward 4 city and regional councillor Rick Kerr, and Ward 3 city councillor Bradley Marks were in favour, while Ward 5 city councillor John Gray and Ward 1 city and regional councillor John Neal were opposed.
Mayor Dan Carter declared a conflict of interest due to owning property in the downtown area.
Giberson pointed out the proposal was likely to become a touchy subject for many people in the community.
Labricciosa acknowledged this but is hoping people can be “open-minded.”
“Some people just don’t want change, and we are hoping to convince them today. We feel we have the right compelling arguments,” he said. “It will be emotionally charged on both sides, and we’re ready for it.”
A passionate opposing voice came from Ward 5 city and regional councillor Brian Nicholson.
He is not a committee member and didn’t get to vote on the matter.
Nicholson said he didn’t understand the approach of “conflict” from the BIA, as he sees the plan as taking something away from another part of the city.
He claimed downtown business owners have called him and said they do not want the Canada Day events moved.
Speaking on the BIA’s tentative budget for the city, Nicholson believes the city will have to greatly increase its contribution should the move happen.
He also believed BIA officials hadn’t given enough consideration for expenses tied to transit, security and road closures.
Noting Canada Day celebrations have occurred in south Oshawa for approximately a century, Nicholson said many people want a “lakeshore” atmosphere.
To him, some residents may head to other communities such as Ajax and Whitby if that is taken away.
“It’s a wonderful tradition we’ve had for generations, do we destroy one tradition, and never get it back?” he said.
Before the vote, Nicholson said making the move would be a “massive public relations disaster” for the city.
Labricciosa said they weren’t trying to disrupt a “100-year tradition.”
McDonald said she recognized is it a “huge ask,” but explained other municipalities and cities are “doing big things” to the occasion.
She said she’s witnessed the impact of moving Canada Day events downtown in other cities, and it helps to rejuvenate businesses “on a day when nobody is driving through downtown.”
Ward 2 city councillor Jane Hurst said the plan was more about the goals of the BIA and not the will of the entire community.
She also raised concerns about liability and a lack of green spaces for children and families to enjoy on Canada Day.
“It seems unnecessary and counterintuitive,” Hurst said.
Gray said he noticed the number of people at Lakeview Park was down this year, and he felt changing things could progress this trend.
“A lot of people know how to get to the lake, what they have to do to park, and the distance they have to walk,” Gray said. “If we move the venue, we lose even more people.”
Neal wanted to know if the fireworks would still take place at Lakeview Park.
Rylott said the BIA has identified four locations in downtown where fireworks could occur safely.
These include the south parking lot of the Tribute Communities Centre and parking lot of the Durham Region Courthouse.
Ward 1 city councillor Rosemary McConkey was in support.
Calling it a “win-win” situation for both the city and BIA, McConkey says it is difficult for residents of north and central Oshawa to navigate down to Lakeview Park on a busy day.