Dispelling Some Myths About Cambridge’s Old Post Office Project

James Harris
Designer at SlideawayMedia. Blogger, photographer and Dad. Purveyor of big ideas. It's alright here, let's make it amazing here.

old-post-office-current-vs-newThe hot topic around Cambridge lately appears to be the new library project that is going on in the Old Post Office in Downtown Galt. There seems to be loads of negativity from a vocal minority of people deriding any number of aspects about the project. Most are of the typical refrain of “waste of tax dollars” or “too much glass” without ever taking a wider view of the project. Libraries do certainly serve a purpose in this day and age and I think it’s wonderful that something is being done with this building. As someone who didn’t live in Cambridge until 2007, Fiddler’s Green(the previous restaurant tennant) was practically the reason to come to Cambridge. It was a beautiful building that my friends and I used to love to come to. I even had the good fortune of being there one night when they had the elusive 3rd floor lounge open. It was a really cool space and it has been quite unfortunate that the building had fallen into disrepair. The fact that the City is breathing new life into this heritage building is awesome.

Now having been a keen observer of what’s gone on with this building since Fiddler’s closed I thought I would tackle some of the myths that seem to be involved in many of the complaints about this project.

Myth #1 – This Project Is Moving Too Fast

People seemed to be pretty revved up about this because they feel this is sudden and that the outgoing council is looking to pull a fast one. Not so much in this case. This project was initially announced in September 2012 with a plan being completed in late 2016. I found this article mentioning the possibility of the City purchasing the building back in 2011. The reality here is that the moving gears to this project have been going on for 2 years now. Council already approved the expenditure of money for this in 2013. So if you’re hopping up and down about this project not having enough consultation you’ve been napping for the last 2 years. If council deferred everything to allow every shortsighted naysayer in town their input the project would never get done.

Myth #2 – This Is Just An Expensive Restaurant/Coffee Shop

From the article Cambridge Libraries page on The Old Post Office project

After Fiddler’s Green closed in 2007, the Post Office was purchased by the Landmark Group which intended to renovate it as a restaurant.  Instead they ended up renovating another historic riverside building just upstream, the Dickson Mill at the Parkhill Bridge, that has become the Cambridge Mill restaurant.  The City of Cambridge became the owner of the old post office once more.

Now the Landmark Group has done some fantastic work in renovating the Cambridge Mill into a highly regarded restaurant destination in Galt. Many people I know that live outside the area will bring up coming from out of town to go to this restaurant. Essentially they restored a landmark and made it even better. When selling the Post Office building back to the City the Landmark Group made it a stipulation that they would retain the rights to being the food vendor. And given the smashing success that project was, why wouldn’t you want them involved? They already have experience with revitalizing Cambridge landmarks.

cambridge-mill

As someone who attends meetups of all sorts in Kitchener/Waterloo/Guelph I’ve found viable meeting spaces are at a premium in Cambridge. It would be great to have a meeting space that would allow you to have a group as well as order food and drinks. Many of the restaurants in town simply don’t have private spaces. I know to the average Cambridge person they might not care, but as someone who wants to see more community events happening in this town this type of space could be ideal.

Myth #3 – It Won’t Mesh With The Existing Architecture

In case people haven’t been paying attention, Downtown Galt has been evolving for years now. The City Hall project did a wonderful job of meshing new and old architecture into a cohesive civic space. We have the Dunfield Theatre that has a large glass front facade with a second floor glass area that juts out from the building, almost in some ways mirroring the new design of the Old Post Office project. There is one Waterscape condo tower built, with a second on its way. Down the other end of downtown there are the Grand Lofts condominiums with another set of modern condominium towers being built right beside with the Riverside Condo project. As mentioned before, the Cambridge Mill was recently renovated, adding a glass pavilion right beside the dam. If you think Galt is all old stone and brick work you just haven’t been paying attention. Give it 5 years and this library will fit right in with the modern direction Galt is going.

waterscape-condos-cambridge

Myth #4 – This Will Just Be Some Yuppy Hangout

This is probably my favourite criticism I’ve heard of this project. I paraphrased a bit referring to this tweet I received about the project

@modsuperstar @bretthagey Call it what it is: #camoflagued #opulence. #OldPostOffice is to become an upper-middle class lounge; not library

— omnigorn (@omnigorn) July 11, 2014

When thinking of this particular criticism I couldn’t help but see through it. Why exactly wouldn’t you want upper-middle class people spending time and money in the largest of Cambridge’s downtown cores? The City has been working rather hard to intensify the population of the downtown core. As I previously mentioned with all the big condo projects, Cambridge wants people living in their downtowns, that’s a no brainer. The reality is this is the type of project that can make people consider living in Cambridge. It can draw in families by having great access to children’s programs. It gives people a reason to spend time downtown. When people are downtown they will spend money on goods and services at local businesses in the area.

Libraries As Vehicles To The Future

Most people with this project seem to be hung up on the concept of what a modern library is today. I know myself growing up in the 1990s I wouldn’t be where I am today without a library with internet access. I learned many of the basics of HTML coding and started building my own web pages by going to the library and using their internet access, which wasn’t as readily available to everyone back then. Those foundational skills I learned in a library are what employs me to this day. This next generation of library is offering stuff like access to a 3D Printer. I can only imagine what I could have cooked up in my teenage years with access to one of those. My guess is most people in Cambridge don’t even know what a 3D Printer is or how it’s going to shape our future. It could viably be as big as the introduction of the internet was to libraries back in the 1990s. Giving access to these types of tools is what this project is all about. Enabling the next generation to think bigger and bolder. A project like this is inspiring and I hope a majority of people in Cambridge can see that fact.

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8 Comments

  1. July 24, 2014  12:13 am by James Hillis Reply

    Bravo! The Best I have read on this by far.

  2. July 25, 2014  7:50 am by Gord Zeilstra Reply

    Great points... Well stated!

  3. July 25, 2014  2:43 pm by Wendi Reply

    I do agree - the same naysayers that poo-pooed the Dunfield Theatre project are busy with their negativity with the Old Post Office. They are also the one's that have come up with every reason to counter a bypass for the heavy truck traffic heading towards the 403 which has created the traffic nightmare on Hwy 24/Hespeler Road/Water Street which leads me to the one thing that I think is being ignored and that is the problem with the parking. The new Old Post Office will be offering programming for children, adolescents and teens along with the adults and groups (by the way, the space will be a wonderful spot for book clubs to meet!). The parking lot across the street is exactly that, across a major roadway with A LOT of traffic that is moving very quickly (I have the cheese store right beside the Old Post Office so I now of which I speak). I am foreseeing major problems and potential accidents occurring as people WILL jaywalk from the parking lot rather than walking up the crosswalk at Main and Water plus the parking in that lot is inadequate as it is at the moment. This needs to be addressed immediately as any solution is a major one. One other thing is that I think that it should be a stipulation that the Cambridge Mill should have to source items for the restaurant from local and preferably downtown merchants for a restaurant that is a part of the downtown. It would give small businesses like mine an opportunity to present to the community what is available right here in Galt-On-The-Grand and certainly fair in terms of a public facility.

    • July 27, 2014  11:42 am by modsuperstar Reply

      I understand your perspective on the traffic flow, though I'm not sure I agree on the local downtown merchant stuff. I think that by having a building like this it strengthens the downtown as a whole. Having more options to attract people into the core is something that benefits the whole area. I know a lot of people have stated competition worries, but really I think that's a moot point. More people will be living near the downtown core than possibly ever before with the new condo projects. There should be plenty of room in the market for downtown businesses to thrive without hamstringing the library restaurant with a mandate to promote other local merchants.

  4. July 25, 2014  4:24 pm by Brett Hagey Reply

    Thank you for the quote; showing the people alternative viewpoints to the status quo makes our democracy stronger, it is appreciated!

    However, I suggest to your viewers they read my policies, and confirm their own comprehension of events, themselves;

    http://bretthagey.com/

  5. July 29, 2014  5:42 pm by joel Reply

    Curious where the stipulation that upon the city purchasing the building, Landmark will be food vendor. Where are the public records of this . Some are saying this stipulation does not exist .

    • July 30, 2014  9:17 pm by modsuperstar Reply

      This may be hearsay. I recall hearing about it somewhere along the line, but I don't know of a specific source.

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