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Monday, April 22, 2024
FUTURE VISION: Part 7: Mandatory accessibility demands that old hospital plan be modern, innovative

We asked readers for their suggestions regarding what should happen to the old Niagara-on-the-Lake hospital site. With its prime location and history in town, the municipality is going to consider formal plans for its possible redevelopment. Here is another idea from a reader.

Dave Antaya

Special to The Lake Report

By 2026, our town and all its public and retail spaces must conform to rigid design protocols that address accessibility issues.

The challenge is both complex and costly. And coming faster than anyone is really prepared for.

As a representative of the town’s joint accessibility advisory committee, I believe the old Niagara-on-the-Lake hospital site can be part of our accessibility solution and give us a wonderful opportunity to grow into a next-generation tourism destination.

The hospital has been a fixture in NOTL since the mid 1950s. It likely is not a strong qualifier for any form of heritage preservation status. The town has declared that its plan to offer the site for sale or disposition to other suitable uses.

An ideal vision is to demolish the hospital building and replace it with a carefully designed multi-level parking facility that is built to accommodate the needs of the  entire Heritage District.

This facility must feature full accessibility measures but also be designed with a facade/appearance in keeping with the height regulations and heritage characteristics of this district.

Additionally it should include some retail and service features that prevent it from being just an ugly parking place. 

The big benefit then becomes the fantastic opportunity to allow the Queen Street heritage area to become an open piazza that can feature more permanent installations that include retail locations, cafes and expansion areas for existing businesses.

Creative imagination can expand to greater opportunities and solutions. Capacity and enhanced services become the mainstay of a thriving and growing tourist experience.

These considerations become poignant in 2025 when all retail and service operations will be required by law to be fully accessible.

Physically the service requirements can be managed by a single lane access with load and unload positions strategically placed with timed access to minimize congestion and maximize efficiency. 

It is impossible to ignore or diminish the implications of infrastructure and the related costs.

A specific solution related to the parking garage is likely best served by a public-private participation (3P) model that addresses the bigger overall project vision. From the revenues accrued by the public partner, funding can be directed to enabling and entrenching the piazza vision. 

Having visited numerous European regions large and small, resident and business access to more restricted areas is easily managed by the implementation barriers that retract into the road surface to allow egress and regress via pass cards. It works!

There are a whole host of reasons to argue why “it can’t be done” and maybe we should look at “Why can’t we do it?” 

Way back in the history of NOTL there existed a tollgate to enter the town. So with some two to three million visitors a year crossing into our town maybe an electronic tollgate at “a buck a car” (not a beer) could be considered.

 How to do this? Ask the operators of the Highway 407ETR to suggest a solution as an electronic partner. 

Dave Antaya is a member of NOTL's joint accessibility advisory committee.



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