Source: London Free Press
For decades, Dundas and Richmond streets was the go-to crossroads of London.
In recent years, it’s become a place many try to avoid.
Now Dundas-Richmond is set for its biggest boost yet, this one a potential watershed for the core, with Fanshawe College offering to buy the Market Tower building as part of its ambitious downtown campus expansion.
The purchase, if and when it’s finalized, could mark a massive transformation for the core.
“This is a premier location,” Howard Rundle, Fanshawe’s soon-to-retire president, said Sunday outside Market Tower. “It’s right at the very heart of London.”
The fact it’s a perceived trouble spot isn’t lost on the 71-year-old, either: “We’ll make a big change.”
Yes, it’s quite likely they will — not that they haven’t already.
It was early 2010 when London city hall offered as much as $20 million to persuade Fanshawe to buy downtown buildings and create a significant campus in the core, far from the east-end compound where most of its 18,000 full-time students are educated.
The first part of that plan will open this fall, when the Centre for Digital and Performance Arts — housed in a renovated building just a few doors west of Dundas-Richmond — opens to an estimated 400 students.
With about $10 million left from city hall’s stake, Fanshawe has now put in a conditional offer on the Shmuel Farhi-owned Market Tower, whose tenants are now mostly city hall workers, including the Ontario Works operations.
Some observers have said London’s troubled downtown is a myth — that’s it’s actually relatively healthy but for the Dundas-Richmond woes. Hundreds more Fanshawe students would change its face dramatically.
But this move wouldn’t just be remarkable — perhaps even historic — for downtown London.
It’s also a watershed for Fanshawe, the little college that could.
After years of being ignored (even sometimes mocked) in London, where Western University was always the fair-haired child, Fanshawe has earned respect as a quality post-secondary institution.
By moving downtown, it’s further weaving itself into London’s identity in a way, it’s worth noting, that apparently doesn’t interest Western.
After 41 years at Fanshawe, Rundle, who retires at month’s end, says that’s among the biggest changes he’s seen.
“When I came to London, Fanshawe was largely unknown,” said Rundle. “And this was a Western town. This is now a Western-Fanshawe town. Fanshawe has moved out of its shadow.”
Many at Fanshawe were initially resistant to a multi-building downtown campus akin to what Ryerson University has created in Toronto. It was Rundle who sold them on the concept, and now the interest is significant, he says.
“There are a number of programs that would prefer to be here rather than at the edge of the city,” he said. “Now people are lining up that would like to bring their programming here.”
The first building is set to open in October (about a month late). Rundle expects media and cultural programs — culinary arts courses are one possibility — to also operate at Market Tower.
Eventually, a downtown student residence may be built.
It’s one thing to put feet on downtown streets in the form of residential developments or offices.
But, as has been pointed out by Coun. Judy Bryant, whose ward includes downtown, there’s a unique energy around post-secondary students. They can represent something remarkable in a community.
For Rundle, whose 17-year tenure as president ends Aug. 31, he’s especially proud of helping create that kind of dynamic in downtown London.
“I’ve been in a number of cities with post-secondary (schools) in the core. It makes it very vibrant,” Rundle said. “There are some things I get personally invested in a bit. The downtown initiative is one of them.”
FANSHAWE’S CORE CONCEPT
- City has pledged $20 million to the plan; half spent on Fanshawe’s first downtown campus building on Dundas St. next to Market Lane (it opens this fall as the Centre for Digital and Performance Arts)
- The other $10 million will go to buy and renovate Market Tower, on which Fanshawe has made a conditional offer
- It’s expected the downtown campus expansion will cost about $45 million
- City staff now at Market Tower are likely bound for the Farhi-owned Bell building; plan to move the Ontario Works offices to sites across London unaffected
- Fanshawe expects eventually to have 1,000 students at the two core buildings
- President Howard Rundle predicts economic boost of $80 million a year for London