News

Hub advocates say Norfolk falling behind

By Monte Sonnenberg, Simcoe Reformer

Recreation boosters in Norfolk are weighing their options following Norfolk council’s decision Tuesday to reject the concept of a multi-use recreation facility in Simcoe. Among them are Kim Huffman (left) of Waterford, Simcoe pharmacist Mark Stephens and Amy Martin of Port Dover.  MONTE SONNENBERG / SIMCOE REFORMER

Recreation boosters in Norfolk are weighing their options following Norfolk council’s decision Tuesday to reject the concept of a multi-use recreation facility in Simcoe. Among them are Kim Huffman (left) of Waterford, Simcoe pharmacist Mark Stephens and Amy Martin of Port Dover. MONTE SONNENBERG / SIMCOE REFORMER

SIMCOE - 

The local business community sat up and took notice this week when Norfolk council aborted a year-long investigation into renewing recreational infrastructure in Simcoe.

Kirby Shieck, spokesperson for the South Coast Business Coalition, says the Simcoe & District Chamber of Commerce and the Simcoe BIA will get much more involved in county politics now that a consensus on a way forward has eluded council.

“Did you call me to ask if there’s going to be six more weeks of winter?” Shieck said Thursday. “Because — based on the vote at council this week — I think there’s going to be six more years of winter in Simcoe.”

The business coalition includes chambers of commerce in Simcoe, Delhi, Waterford and Port Rowan as well as the Port Dover Board of Trade.

The coalition hasn’t formally responded to Tuesday’s vote. But Shieck knows many members are unhappy.

“This should’ve been a brilliant idea,” Shieck said. “But somehow they managed to turn a Simcoe problem into a Norfolk issue. That was a mistake.

“It’s beyond ground-shaking that something so brilliant should fall apart over so many little particulars. It’s beyond my comprehension.

“Maybe you don’t like the colour of the project. If so, then deal with the colour. You don’t vote down the entire project.”

At issue is a proposal to rebuild key recreational infrastructure in Simcoe on a single parcel of land.

The idea came to life after council realized it needs to spend about $15 million over the next several years on aging recreational infrastructure in Simcoe.

Instead of pouring $15 million into the Simcoe Recreation Centre, Talbot Gardens and the Simcoe Seniors Centre, some on council and in the community want to see if federal and provincial funding is available to build a new multi-use recreation complex.

For that to happen, Norfolk has to have a shovel-ready project in place. Norfolk council suspended progress in that direction Tuesday in a 5-4 vote. Afterward, Norfolk Mayor Charlie Luke said it will be up to the new council elected this fall to revisit the proposal.

A number of recreation hub supporters were in the gallery at Governor Simcoe Square for Tuesday’s vote. They were stunned when council threw on the brakes.

One of them was Mark Stephens, a partner in the Roulston’s chain of pharmacies. In light of Tuesday’s vote, Stephens is re-evaluating what he thought he knew about Norfolk as a forward-thinking municipality.

“Because I’m so passionate about this, what happened Tuesday was difficult to comprehend. It was like taking a rock to the stomach. It’s left me wondering if there’s a future here for me and my family. I’m wondering if Norfolk is a place where I should make future investments.

“I think Norfolk deserves better than this. It deserves better leadership.”

Kim Huffman, of Waterford, has been an outspoken supporter of the hub concept. Huffman was speechless when council pulled the plug.

Huffman has seen what other communities have during her travels to games and tournaments with her children. Huffman says Norfolk is behind the curve and now has no game plan for addressing the situation.

“It’s extremely disappointing that we haven’t hit those benchmarks yet,” Huffman said. “Having facilities like that in Norfolk is paramount to attracting people. It’s part of the lifestyle people want and we don’t have it.”

Amy Martin, of Port Dover, a spokesperson for the group ALL-Norfolk Hub, said she had difficulty functioning following Tuesday’s vote.

“Trying to get on with my day today is just not happening,” she said. “I’m so distracted and disturbed. I’m feeling that this severe neglect is happening – of our programs, of our youth, our seniors.

“I’m trying to find light at the end of the tunnel. I’m trying to stay positive. I definitely think we need new blood on council. We have to stay positive. I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet.”

MSonnenberg@postmedia.com