Stopping Virulent Homburgism

CBC Compass broke the story last night that the Charlottetown Area Development Corporation has been secretly developing a plan to extend the Queen Parkade across through to University Avenue, tearing down the buildings that house the The Maple Grill, Back Alley Music, Monsoon, the Alibi Lounge and Cedar’s in the process.

CADC Plans for Queen Parkade

Turning this… Into more of this…
University Avenue Buildings Queen Parkade

This is being done, CBC reports, to provide 200 parking spaces for the new Homburg developments downtown.

Fortunately the owners whose properties were to fall to the wrecking ball, or at least some of them, decided not to sell to CADC and so the plan has been scrapped, at least for the time-being, in favour of expanding either the Fitzroy or Pownal parkades.

While the immediate threat has been stanched, the larger issue – just how far is the City of Charlottetown willing to prostrate itself at the alter of Homburg’s Trump-like plans to remake the city’s core in his own image – remains.

Indeed this plan, conceived out of the public’s scrutiny under cover of CADC’s “arm’s length” relationship to both the city and the province, represents a new, more foreboding variety of Homburgism: it was possible to argue, however implausibly, the Homburg’s developments to date, the office skyscraper and the hotel, benignly replaced underused buildings.

In this case, however, CADC, doing Homburg’s bidding, was proposing to tear down an entire stretch of viable businesses so that Homburg’s tenants would have a more convenient place to park.  

This is no longer development, it’s cannibalism, and it must be stopped.

There’s an larger issue at play here too, and that’s the rapid disappearance of what Stewart Brand calls “low road buildings” – the cheap, flexible, unremarkable buildings in any city that play a vital role as incubators of small businesses that would be impossible to house anywhere else.

We lost a strip of low road storefronts when the Jean Canfield Building went up between Fitzroy and Euston on University Ave., another when the Johnny’s Mayfair building burned at the corner of Prince and Kent, and as Water Street gradually gentrifies we’re losing even more down there.

Without low road buildings in the core you don’t get record stores and sushi places and bicycle shops and book stores and interesting bars, you get franchises and banks and office towers and high-end shoe stores.

If the trend continues, there won’t be any area downtown for small businesses to bootstrap, and it’s precisely this kind of small business that breathes new life and diversity into the retail and restaurant life of the city, and that distinguishes downtown Charlottetown from downtown anywhere else.

I grew up in Ontario during the decades when “urban core renewal” was in vogue, a style of “renewal” that saw the downtown of many small cities – Brantford, Hamilton, and Peterborough come to mind, but there are countless others – gutted and replaced with behemothic shopping malls. The result? Much fanfare, followed by a gradual decline into urban wasteland.

While Charlottetown was not completely immune to this trend, the city was fortunate that the shopping mall we got downtown preserved much of the existing infrastructure, and so was less behemothic and more sympathetic infill.

But even this less severe approach to “renewal” has essentially been a failure: you have only to walk through what remains of the Confederation Court Mall and its empty unit after empty unit to see this.

And yet those charged with charting a course for the Charlottetown have fallen in thrall to Homburgism, a model of the city that, if it prevails, will ultimately see much of what’s interesting and unique about the city replaced with generic developments that flow from one man’s outlandish vision, not from the kind of collaborative, organic, community-based planning process that makes the kind of city that people might actually want to live in.

While the thwarting of CADC plan to expand the Queen Parkade holds back one flank of this battle, it continues on other fronts unabated, gradually creeping over the entire urban core.

It’s time for people who care about the distinctive character of downtown Charlottetown – the architects, the designers, the historians, the everyday regular people – to speak out against this movement, to work to snap the city father’s out of their Homburg-induced delirium, and to propose viable alternatives to this inane approach to urban development.

If we don’t, then soon it will be too late: office tower will beget parking garage will beget office tower will beget parking garage and soon we’ll be living in downtown anywhere, wondering what happened to the city we once held dear.


Joshua Biggley's picture
Joshua Biggley on January 5, 2011 - 17:18 Permalink

Is there not a zoning change that would be required, thus allowing public input into the process? If not, then we have failed as a democratic society, where ‘arms-length’ organizations can enforce their views on the public.

That said, democracy is a fickle blade and cuts both ways.

Thanks for the FYI.

Ann Thurlow's picture
Ann Thurlow on January 5, 2011 - 17:21 Permalink

A plan proposed to the city actually calls for more infilling in the blocks bounded (if memory serves) by Grafton, University. Queen and Euston. However, I do not think that parking garages were what the architects of that plan had in mind. It would horrify me to have what is an important street in the city occupied for nearly a block by a parking garage.
Good on the owners for refusing to sell.
However, it is going to take more than people just saying no to this type of development. People are going to have to be convinced to make actual investments, to own pieces of the downtown so that they can have some say about what it looks like. The problem is that Homburg seems to be the only one who recognizes the potential of Charlottetown’s downtown and who is willing to put his money where his mouth is.
A number of other blocks are in imminent danger as well — a number of proposals have been put forth over the years to preserve the downtown’s character. None have been adopted. It is easy to get the feeling that many owners of downtown properties see these proposals as a hindrance.
So, two questions, really: who will step up to invest — and who will care?

Johnny Rukavina's picture
Johnny Rukavina on January 5, 2011 - 17:35 Permalink

I don’t think I disagree with the content of your post at all, but your inflammatory and melodramatic language makes you come off as something of a kook and, for me, lessens the impact of your argument.

I also think that your conceit of demonizing Homburg as a Stalinist megalomaniacal despot — “Homburgism”, “prostrate itself at the alter [sic] of Homburg’s Trump-like plans to remake the city’s core in his own image” (how is extending a parkade remaking a city in one’s own image?), “doing Homburg’s bidding”, “one man’s outlandish vision” etc. is at best not constructive and at worst childish and inaccurate.

Homburg is a development company named after its founder. Homburg is not Dr. Evil in an underground bunker diabolically scheming how to make Charlottetown generic and ugly, ruin your walk to work and limit your choice of sushi bars.

Taking potshots at a developer achieves little and is hardly in the spirit of the “collaborative, organic, community-based planning process” you refer to.

Andrew Chisholm's picture
Andrew Chisholm on January 5, 2011 - 17:37 Permalink

It’s not fair, Peter, to say CADC was working on this plan behind our backs. I read about this plan months ago. Glad it’s not going ahead. Sportmans is my bar of choice. Cheap beer, free pool and darts. Glad it’ll be around.

Nathan's picture
Nathan on January 5, 2011 - 17:39 Permalink

Excellent argument for why low-rent spaces are important. I agree, except for how you framed the enemy. If “Homburg’s developments to date benignly replaced underused buildings,” then isn’t that the more appropriate definition of “Homburgism”? Sure, let’s fight the car-centric thinking, but turning Homburg into a super villain is distracting and weakens the argument.

Ann Thurlow's picture
Ann Thurlow on January 5, 2011 - 18:01 Permalink

Another thing people can do is patronize the “record stores and sushi places and bicycle shops and book stores and interesting bars” to make it worth their while to stay downtown and keep up the fight.

Charles's picture
Charles on January 5, 2011 - 18:23 Permalink

Actually Peter, you have your facts a little confused. Homburg didn’t order the city to crush the little guys and extend the Queen’s Street parkade. Rather, the city agreed to create 200 more parking spaces in the downtown as a condition of Homburg investing millions of dollars in developing the downtown. The city came up with the plan to put them in the QSP, which was a good idea.

People can whine all they want about this, but the fact of the matter is that downtown Charlottetown needs a lot more parking. It doesn’t matter to you because you live downtown, so you can walk to work. When I worked down there 3-4 years ago you couldn’t get a monthly parking pass to any of the parkades because they were already full with a huge waiting list. That meant paying $30/week instead of $80/month in daily parking fees *if* you could find an open spot in one of the parkades (in December, that became very difficult.) Not exactly a great motivator to setup an office in the downtown, which would supply customer’s for all those folksy small businesses.

If you want people to go to the downtown, you have to give them somewhere to park. That means either extending the existing parkades or building a new one.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on January 5, 2011 - 18:58 Permalink

The CBC report starts “it wasn’t widely known, but for the last two years officials had been quietly working on plans to dramatically expand the Queen Street Parkade.” That sounds as close to “secret” as you can get without saying “secret.”

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on January 5, 2011 - 19:07 Permalink

You really need to go and speak with someone who’s fallen prey to Homburg’s charms: he may not be Dr. Evil, but once you’ve spent an hour in the company of someone whose charms he has fallen under, you may think differently (the comparison to Donald Trump was not accidental; they appear to have a similar ability to rally people behind them, and a similar unerring conception of the rightness of their mission).

This is a fight between different visions of the city, but also a fight between different visions of society: when people whose primary asset is “lots of money” are allowed to play with a city as though it was a toy village, they are being irresponsible and we are being irresponsible for letting them.

We’re all as much to blame for Homburgism as anyone.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on January 5, 2011 - 19:08 Permalink

This is why I was at Michael Stanley’s pottery shop doing my Christmas shopping instead of Zellers. We paint the town we want with the brush of our daily spending.

Ann Thurlow's picture
Ann Thurlow on January 5, 2011 - 19:16 Permalink

Agreed. Also extends to music (Back Alley vs Amazon) and books (Bookman, Bookmark versus Amazon) and to some extent, clothes. It isn’t always easy because it sometimes limits what you can have — or how quickly you can have it. But there are few retail opportunities left downtown and I feel we really have to support them because if they’re gone there’s nothing to make the place attractive to do anything but work (and park) in. Even when it’s difficult, we have to try.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on January 5, 2011 - 19:41 Permalink

As much as it pains me to say so, being a frequent customer at Shoppers Drug Mart (and loving it’s convenient 9-9 hours), this probably means shopping at Murphy Pharmacies instead of Shoppers: the Ray Murphy needs to be rewarded for investing in the Basilica Rec Centre and breathing new life into it.

Joshua Biggley's picture
Joshua Biggley on January 5, 2011 - 19:46 Permalink

I would strongly recommend that anyone who finds parking in downtown Charlottetown a challenge consider giving the transit system a try. Part of the reason there is such a derth of parking is all of the single occupant vehicles in the core. Taking transit is pretty much hassle-free (aside from the cryptic scheduling) and Trius has a very aggressive plan to modernize both the equipment and the service (including service delivery) in the coming year.

As a deviation from Homburgate, wouldn’t it be grand if the provincial government actually used the $1 million in federal transit transfers for public transit? Wouldn’t it be great if those who parked downtown subsidized not only the parking, but also the transit system, since we all pay for the roads already? Wouldn’t it be great if the transit system was free?

I say, free transit and then decide whether or not we really need more parking spaces downtown. That would be a much better investment of our infrastructure dollars.

Ritchie Simpson's picture
Ritchie Simpson on January 5, 2011 - 20:05 Permalink

If you want a vibrant and healthy city you must have some growth and development, if you want businesses then you have to provide parking for shoppers, if you want residents then you need to provide shopping and so on. Standing still is not an option, though in this case I remind you that this particular development is not going to happen; even so there’s no historic or architectural significance to the properties that were in question and no serious chance that it was ever going to happen. There have been several attempts to clean up this part of University Ave. and all have been stymied as one landowner or another got greedy as soon as they became aware of the plans.

Were it so simple Peter et al, to eliminate development, parking and other livability requirements altogether, but the demands on City Hall come from many directions, developers, citizens, pedestrians, drivers, shoppers, property owners, tenants, residents, organizations etc. etc, and the demands differ depending on which hat is being worn at which time. You rail against Richard Homburg but on balance his developments have been good for Charlottetown, he’s put unused space to good use and brought residents to downtown, he’s done a fairly good job of saving and enhancing the Dundee which we were in danger of losing, he will restore the original facade of the Holman’s building (if he carries through on his promise) and rid us of that hideous tin facing that blighted all of Charlottetown. By all reports Homberg likes Charlottetown and we should encourage that and coach him into doing things that are good for our community; yes he has an out-sized ego but is that a Capital Offence?

I’m interested to know what you are for, as its apparent what you are against and how does that translate into on-the-ground development? Not vaporous platitudes like “Livable spaces that enhance the urban environment”, not Stalinist dictates like “you will build a Coffee shop here and you will like it!” but practical suggestions that take into account the differing demands of the interested AND vested parties in a free market environment.

Robert Pendergast's picture
Robert Pendergast on January 5, 2011 - 20:37 Permalink


We need to keep Charlottetown interesting.

Alexander's picture
Alexander on January 5, 2011 - 20:50 Permalink

Free public transit is a huge game changer for livability in cities both for downtown residents and people who live in inner ring suburbs. The success stories here back this up, too:…

Martin C's picture
Martin C on January 5, 2011 - 21:02 Permalink

I think this is a brilliant idea.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on January 5, 2011 - 22:35 Permalink

I think a large part of how you feel about this issue has to do with you feeling about capitalists in general.

If you consider capitalists the vital driving force in society you probably have more sympathy to Homburg and his ilk, and to the general notion of development, than I do.

I happen to think capitalism (despite my active participation in it) is a generally destructive force, and so a braggadocious millionaire capitalist is already halfway to Dr. Evil status in my books without even lifting a finger.

Jevon's picture
Jevon on January 5, 2011 - 23:05 Permalink

My guess is that it is not this simple and there was probably a plan to either save the existing storefronts or to create some sort of new low-rise spaces for stores (“retail”).

That isn’t to detract from some of your other very good points, but I get the feeling there is some conclusion-jumping going on.

I still believe that Homburg is a far better person/company to have developing in Charlottetown than some REIT from Toronto who build simply to flip and are happy to sue their way around town to get things done the way they want to get them done.

Gorden Freeman's picture
Gorden Freeman on January 5, 2011 - 23:45 Permalink

This isn’t a sinister plan that’s been concocted to wreck the days of every islander, you people are foolish. This plan wasn’t “secretly” devised as so many people like to pretend. It’s just not their responsibility to keep the public informed of their plans.

The only thing shocking about this story is just how much the average islander fears any sort of change.


Jim Tebow's picture
Jim Tebow on January 5, 2011 - 23:47 Permalink

Yes! This article illustrates exactly what is wrong not only with the current situation facing Charlottetown, but the evolution of urbanism at large. Down with Homburgism!

Connie Clark's picture
Connie Clark on January 6, 2011 - 01:01 Permalink

As a frequent visitor to several of the businesses that would have been in jeopardy had some of the owners not refused to sell, I agree with the points Ann makes. Yes, I agree with progress and recognize that Charlottetown needs help to boost its image and attract more shoppers to the downtown core. However, at what price? I would be very sad to lose those businesses, many of whom have stood the test of time and others that are holding their own in the competitive restaurant/bar/lounge field. There are some very unique businesses on that block which add to the flavour of the downtown. I shop downtown whenever possible and encourage others to do the same.

Rob MacD's picture
Rob MacD on January 6, 2011 - 02:34 Permalink

For my money, Cedars makes one of the top three homburgs in the downtown core.
I basically agree with Peter’s sentiment, and his frustrated tone.

Robert Paterson's picture
Robert Paterson on January 6, 2011 - 12:00 Permalink

Yea Peter — I keep thinking about Jane Jacobs and her view of the ideal urban landscape here is a quick summary that supports Peter —…

The risk is that if we lose the mix of human scaled business and also residential the inner city becomes a social desert.

These ideas are neither novel or unaccepted but city planners still ignore them. I suspect Mr H is just doing what developers do. My beef is with the City — do they have any understanding about what works? If not they are only 2-3 books away.

Christopher Alexander is the other author I recommend —…

Karen Kemp's picture
Karen Kemp on January 6, 2011 - 13:59 Permalink

If we lose the small buildings or as the article describes them “low road buildings”, Charlottetown will lose much of its charm. There is nothing wrong with new development ‘per se’ but we need to have a plan in mind of how we want our city to look/feel, otherwise, anybody who comes along with a lot of money can make our city into whatever they want and the results could be devastating… think parkades, strip malls, concrete jungle…yuck…

Kate McKenna's picture
Kate McKenna on January 6, 2011 - 14:11 Permalink

Well said.

LC's picture
LC on January 6, 2011 - 16:30 Permalink

This is crazy and CADC should be ashamed of jeopardizing businesses which are part of Charlottetown’s fabric — crazy -

Evan's picture
Evan on January 6, 2011 - 17:56 Permalink

The city is in need of parking, yes, we keep increasing the density downtown. The density increases thanks to investment and development, which is great. The problem as I see it is that there are no, nor have there ever been, checks and balances in our city to ensure we have responsible development.

New hotels? Great. New office buildings and tech centers? Great. I’m glad entrepreneurs and governments alike see this town as a good investment. But our city has never considered responsible development, and the only place this can or should come from is city hall. Every time one of these buildings goes in, part of the plan should be to incorporate underground parking, and it should not be approved otherwise. Unfortunately all you have to do is wave a cheque at city hall and they’ll waive any parking or other infrastructure requirements.

This city has always planned for yesterday and has never looked towards the future. Other cities have roadmaps for development. If you want to develop an office tower, your plan includes parking. If you want to develop a subdivision, your plan includes a school, bus stops, bike lanes, green space.

Investment in our town is great, but it needs to be properly managed.

Stephen Pate's picture
Stephen Pate on January 6, 2011 - 20:33 Permalink

This is the fault of poor planning — the tiny parking subsidy/payoff won’t replace the parking these new buildings require. However, our city fathers are in bed with land developers. Raze and pave strategy.

The devastation on PEI’s arts community will be like a neutron bomb. There are three outlets for local musicians and artists in the scratched plan — Baba’s, Alibi and Back Alley. These establishments support local musicians who generally live at the bottom of the economic ladder.

Removing these places in one fell swoop would be a disaster.

LC's picture
LC on January 6, 2011 - 22:40 Permalink

I think City Planners have not been very visionary and why not have developers provide their own parking -underground or whatever — I think a better vision would be to encourage public transit and ahve developers assist with things like the parking they need -City planning in late 18th/early 19th Century was more vioinary with downtown Parks and Victoria Park as their legacy -can we not do better in 21st Century — the waterfront has not been developed properly and there has not been attention to mixed residential housing — Can we not do better?

David's picture
David on January 7, 2011 - 03:43 Permalink

The proposed expansion of the Queen Parkade did not happen. The property owners had the option of selling and they didn’t. What exactly is the issue here? I’m glad this parkade expansion didn’t happen because I frequent those businesses. That being said, Charlottetown does need to find a way to meet the increased demand for parking.

Jeremy Larter's picture
Jeremy Larter on January 7, 2011 - 04:20 Permalink

Ah, how short our memories can be. It was only about 5 years ago that downtown Charlottetown was on the verge of becoming a vacant wasteland. Empty lots and empty retail spaces littered the downtown core. Boy oh boy how I miss the days of the University Ave and Kent St corner and the hideous “street art” that tried to cover up the empty retail spaces behind them.

Charlottetown isn’t exactly overflowing with companies looking to invest and make roots in our small downtown core. We need to be open to development possibilities while maintaining and enhancing the look and feel of the city. As far as I know, Homburg wasn’t responsible for the ugly 1960’s/70’s era buildings that litter Charlottetown amongst the beautiful 19th century architecture.

There hasn’t been a big push for architectural innovation and cohesion in Charlottetown urban planning for a very long time. Charlottetown has a long way to go before it can say it has a “revitalized” downtown. To get there we need development and investment into the downtown core without destroying or stripping away the characteristics that make the city unique. I’m sure a balance can be achieved as companies like Homburg invest in our city.

And yes to everything Ann Thurlow said. She is a wise woman.

Oliver's picture
Oliver on January 15, 2011 - 11:38 Permalink

That’s a very old-fashioned-ugly parking lot. I didn’t know they still built those.