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Councillor takes historic look at downtown and waterfront projects and how they shape the future

'You’ve now had several successions of City Council who have really taken this area to heart'

“Rooted” is all about the people and places that make us proud to call our community home.

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“The downtown is the heart of the community and it's extremely important to have a vibrant downtown,” says North Bay City Councillor Dave Mendicino.  

“There’s been a lot of work over the last couple of years to revitalize the downtown and we really want to see this idea of having a downtown and waterfront where you can truly live, work and play.”

Mendicino was born and raised in North Bay and for him, and many other members of the community, the downtown and waterfront hold a special place in his heart.

“My dad Mario worked out of a barbershop called George’s from about 1956 to early 1963. It was Hub Fedeli that owned the confectionery store at the front of the shop and my dad worked out of the back with George, and he worked there until a fire in 1963 burned down the shop.”

Mendicino says his father then built his own business called Mario’s Hairstylist Barbershop which opened around 1964 at 171 Main Street East which is ironically the spot of another fire in December of 2019. But during the time his father was in business, Mendicino says the downtown was a place that was buzzing.  

“I remember going into downtown as a kid on Saturdays and spending time in my dad’s shop and it was always so busy and I would help out by sweeping up the floors because the barbers themselves didn’t have time to do that in between customers. I got to earn a little bit of money as well being a shoe shinning boy,” says Mendicino.

“The two summers I spent doing that, I really got to see my dad in a different light, just seeing that working side of him and sometimes he would start at 8 a.m. and wouldn’t finish until 6 p.m. and they would be standing all day cutting hair. I remember one day when Bob Wood came in, and this was when he was still on the radio and I had never seen him in person before and so it was cool to put a face to the voice I listened to him in the morning and there was a sense of pride in the fact that my dad was the guy who cut Bob Woods hair!”

Mendicino says the challenges in running a business back then is no different than it is today as you’re putting your own personal finances on the line.

He says, “You have to be careful how you spend your money and you have to look for different ways to increase your business.”

And businesses downtown were prospering over the next few decades.  

“In the 1960s and ‘70s there were no malls in North Bay and so the downtown was really thriving with a lot of retail stores and a lot more restaurants and bars than what you see now,” says Mendicino.

“I remember on Friday and Saturday nights the downtown was just jammed with people.”

But the downtown had a different look, and the way it is shaped now is thanks to a project called “The Big Dig” which took place in 1983.   

“That was really the last time the downtown was reconstructed,” Mendicino says.  

“The water and sewer work was done and the roadways and sidewalks that you see today were done. I remember the area being dug up for quite some time and it did cause some inconvenience, but it lasted a long time. It was quite the showcase to see how they ended up finishing it and what they unveiled is what you still see today.” 

Mendicino says it was around this time the construction of Memorial Drive took place as well as the redevelopment of the Waterfront area.

“One of the things we’re doing today is marketing the downtown and the waterfront as one spot,” says Mendicino.

“You’ve now had several successions of City Council who have really taken this area to heart. In the late 1990s, the city had begun purchasing the rail lands and that really was the next step towards the development of the waterfront. In the 2000s you had the development of the community waterfront park and the pedestrian underpass, which really is a critical link between the downtown and the marina.”

That’s a very brief snapshot of the last 60 years of North Bay’s downtown and waterfront, and Mendicino says there is a lot of excitement around City Hall and within downtown and waterfront stakeholders who are gearing up to present ideas on how to shape this are for the next 30 years.    

“Two things that really stick out to me that are really going to shape the future of this area. You’ve got the downtown waterfront master plan that was adopted by council in 2019,” says Mendicino.

“This was an extensive document that had a lot of public consultation and a lot of time spent by staff consulting with stakeholders and community groups that have an interest in the area. That plan is the roadmap for the next 30 years of things we could do to the waterfront to bring it to the future.”  

Mendicino says on top of that, the city has the Growth Community Incentive Program, which is a program that is targeting growth in the downtown core.

“This council invested significant dollars towards this, which is all about growing the city. We’ve been pleased to see that over the last couple of years we’ve had 15 applications towards this program which will generate a building construction value of almost $10-million into the downtown. The goal is to create jobs and get more residential units in that area and those applications will create 23 full-time jobs, 18 part-time jobs, and 84 additional residential units in the downtown. That’s going to be very significant moving forward. The city committed $596,000 of public sector contribution but it is generating almost $10-million in the downtown,” says Mendicino.   

On top of that, there is the physical look of the downtown that needs a facelift as well.

“The downtown is certainly starting to show its age since its last major renovation and we need a major overhaul,” says Mendicino.

The detailed design looks at renovating Main Street from Cassells Street all the way down to Sherbrooke. We’ll be looking at reconstruction just on the surface, the water and sewer is fine, so unlike The Big Dig we don’t need to dig down that deep, so it’s all sidewalks and the roads and railings.”  

Council has hired the design team and now the first step will be to start with the public consultation within the downtown, the property owners, and other stakeholders in that area.

“We have an opportunity here to design our downtown for the next 30 years, so we’ll start from a blank canvas and work from there,” says Mendicino.  

Mendicino says it really is an exciting time to witness a revitalization of a key area for your city.

“I’m excited about this detailed design. You have this private sector investment, you’ve got the Marina Point expansion that’s happening, you have the Rotary Splash Pad area now, there’s multi-use courts planned for the waterfront park and an innovation hub is being discussed, along with a culture hub,” he says.

“All of these things are happening now that are geared towards the revitalization to bring the downtown and waterfront area to be a place where you can live, work and play. There’s been a big movement over the last couple of years to start marketing and planning strategically and we are very fortunate that we have a city where the downtown is right next to the waterfront, not every city is lucky to have that and we have to start marketing that a little better.”  

Mendicino adds this really is a project that can only happen with the support of the community and the people in positions to push it forward.

“All of these things can’t happen without a Mayor and Council that is committed to seeing these things happen,” he says.  

“I have the benefit and the joy of working with the Downtown Improvement Area board and they are so hard working. They are all volunteers that are dedicated to making the downtown the best place it can be. I also work with the Heritage North Bay board which maintains care and control of the waterfront and they are so committed to that area and I’m just really looking forward to seeing these two boards working together to carry that vision forward of the downtown and waterfront as one area. I’m just excited to do my small part and be a part of council that is committed to seeing this through.”  

If you have a story idea for the Rooted series, send Matt an email at m.sookram@outlook.com 


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Matt Sookram

About the Author: Matt Sookram

Matthew Sookram is a Canadore College graduate. He has lived and worked in North Bay since 2009 covering different beats; everything from City Council to North Bay Battalion.
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