In conversation about … “Bless the City” Downtown Park Project, Port Colborne

In 2016, Niagara Diocese authorized St. James and St. Brendan to purchase 25 Charlotte Street and 26-33 Charlotte Street, Port Colborne, to create much needed green space, beautify the downtown, catalyze further urban renewal and repurpose the vacant buildings for the benefit of the city.

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St. James and St. Brendan Port Colborne owns this derelict property on Charlotte Street in Port Colborne. Photo: Submitted

The Niagara Anglican explored these possibilities with the Reverend Canon Robert Hurkmans, Rector.

Niagara Anglican: What is the situation like on Charlotte Street?

Robert Hurkmans: Port Colborne is an awesome little city and lately it seems like there are good things happening on every corner.

Yet, one notable exception is the derelict property at the corner of King and Charlotte, right across from the church. Here you will find a large, overgrown, abandoned lot surrounded by a chain-linked fence. On the same property are two buildings: one was a former notorious hangout for a Niagara biker gang. The other building was filled with hundreds of snakes (yes, snakes) and aquariums until the owner left town.

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Once a hangout for a biker gang, this building is being converted—with money from a Niagara Diocese WOW grant—to Ozzie’s Garage, a youth outreach centre. Photo: Submitted

In a nutshell the property consists of a vacant lot, a biker hangout, and the “snake pit”.

NA: What will Charlotte Street look like when completed?

RH: God has given us a compelling vision to completely transform this property. Our mission is to redevelop the corner into a place of beauty, rest, community and learning.

The empty lot will become a parkette complete with benches, artwork, gardens, trees, a fountain, sundial and pavilion. It will become the perfect place for a restful lunch break, a gardening program, an art show, a concert or even a wedding.

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Prayer and consideration are still being given to the future purpose for this building on the property, once filled with snakes. Photo: Submitted

The biker building is already (with the help of a WOW Grant) being converted into “Ozzy’s Garage”, a youth outreach centre.

After some stabilizing renovations, we are beginning to explore our options for the old snake building.

NA: Why is the parish doing this?

RH: From the very beginning this project has been a product of prayer and vision, and we are committed to following God’s leading.

We also have a deep desire to make our city a better place for everyone.

In Jeremiah 29, when God’s people found themselves in exile, living in a foreign city, they were tempted to turn their backs and detach themselves from the problems of that city. But God spoke to them, saying: “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

In short, we believe that churches are called to make their cities better places.

NA: Tell us about the youth program with Rick Osborne.

RH: Shortly after purchasing the property we began to ponder the possible uses of the vacant buildings.

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Architect’s concept drawing of the parkette to be built on the site, a part of the church’s plan for a place of beauty, rest, community and learning.

At that moment God “sent” Rick and Heather Osborne to our church. Rick (Ozzy) was a former member of several biker gangs and has painful and harrowing stories to tell about that lifestyle. Ultimately Rick spent 25 years in prison where he found God (or God found him).

Today Rick is one of Canada’s leading gang experts and a much sought after speaker.

Rick and his wife Heather are now partnering with us to create “Ozzy’s Garage”, a multi-use, youth outreach centre. It will provide youth support and mentoring programs including the keystone program, a “Bike Build” class, where youth get the chance to rebuild bikes and hot rods under Rick’s mentorship.

NA: What are the plans to bring the project to fruition?

RH: We can’t do this alone.

The total cost of this project will be close to $500,000.
As such, we have a multipronged approach to raising the monies needed to make this dream a reality.

Our church community has given generously to the project, but we are now approaching local businesses and residents of Port Colborne to get behind this vision as well.

We are also applying for numerous grants.

We know that if we follow God’s leading then we can depend on God’s supply.

NA: How can our readers help?

RH: If you would like to support this project or if you want to learn more about it, just visit our website: www.blessthecity.ca

NA: May God continue to guide and bless you in the days ahead.