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Gateway to the past (Posted On: Monday, July 31, 2017)

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The view from the third-floor office in John Wiggins' Shipyards condo is enviable: a perfect panorama of Collingwood's waterfront, with the Collingwood Terminals grain elevator framed squarely in the centre of the north window's circular porthole motif.

The iconic structure stands like a sentry at the entrance to Collingwood Harbour, harkening back to the days when Collingwood was a thriving shipping port known as the "Chicago of the North." Lit up at night, the facade's ethereal glow conjures the ghosts of the thousands who toiled in its shadow during Collingwood's 100-year shipbuilding heyday.

It is arguably our region's most recognizable and beloved landmark. Yet far from relishing the sight, Wiggins looks out his window at the Terminals building and dreams of tearing it down.

"As far as I'm concerned, that little piece of land out there, which I call Harbour Island and everybody else calls The Spit, has that big hunk of concrete on it that's doing absolutely nothing - it doesn't pay taxes, and it's kind of in the way of a huge opportunity," explains Wiggins. "Unfortunately, everyone's in love with it, so whenever I mention knocking it down they want to hang me from the nearest tree."

Wiggins' vision for the property includes demolishing the Terminals building, using the rubble to expand the Millennium Park property on the water side of the Terminals, and developing a "very meaningful, world-class" arts and convention centre on the land.

"I see the possibility of becoming an Aspen or a Banff of the east," says Wiggins. "It's a gem of a property and how do you turn that into something very significant? The challenge is getting people over the hurdle of what it could be and how important it could be in the future."

A former ad designer and the retired founder of Creemore Springs Brewery, Wiggins has created a conceptual drawing of what he envisions on the property: a hotel, conference centre, performing arts theatre, sound studio, rehearsal hall and artist's studios, with underground parking beneath the complex.

"I think if you put together what I’m talking about, there could be a million dollars worth of taxes each year instead of costing the town money," says Wiggins, noting that the town owns the building and property. However, he admits the idea will be a "tough sell" - the historic significance of the building and the fact that it is within the Collingwood Downtown Heritage Conservation District mean that any proposal to demolish or significantly change the structure would likely meet with fierce opposition.

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