With the recent demise of the Mercury, Acker's is generally considered the second oldest downtown business — behind the Albion — and the longest-running retailer.
But on the heels of the announcement that the store will be shuttered, came the fantastic news that its mammoth home will soon become a community shared space under the guidance of the folks at 10 Carden.
The non-profit will vacate its current home, moving a few doors down and into the five-times-larger furniture store where it will co-exist with several community agencies, including the Guelph Arts Council, Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition, Local Immigration Partnership, Wellington Water Watchers, Out On the Shelf and the University of Guelph, which will establish a "community classroom" on the fourth floor to bring students and researchers together in the heart of downtown.
"In my term of council, I've never seen such a good news story with so many wins behind it," Councilor James Gordon said during a recent meeting of the community services committee.
Committee members unanimously endorsed Gordon's motion referring to staff a request from 10 Carden for tax relief and other financial assistance. Staff are expected to report back in a few weeks.
10 Carden co-founder Julia Grady may have shot herself in the foot, telling committee members her organization "can do the financial part without the city," having already raised most of the $400,000 initial cost to complete the purchase.
But she asked the city for financial support — using an innovative "community bond" model — "to show other organizations that this is possible."
Indeed the project is an opportunity for council, at very little financial risk, to once again demonstrate its commitment to the core.
While the new condos at the foot of Macdonell are and will continue to attract new residents to the downtown, the project at 42 Carden St. will likewise inject many new non-residents. Grady told the committee the building, once fully functioning, should house 30 full-time staff and bring 300 to 500 visitors to the core each week.
Considering that Acker’s perhaps attracted a few dozen visitors a week — most of whom were likely already downtown anyway — it’s easy to see the project will be a net win for a downtown still stinging from the loss of longtime businesses such as the Mercury and Budd’s.
During the community services meeting, Mayor Cam Guthrie said the city would do its due diligence in considering 10 Carden’s request, noting it can be difficult to squeeze in new line items outside of budget season.
This is true, of course. But it’s also true the Carden Street project is so significant to the continued development of the downtown that councilors should feel duty-bound to help make it happen.
There will be a small handful of councilors, as usual, who bemoan further investment in the core. But the downtown is the heart of the city, and this project represents an opportunity for that heart to beat a little stronger.