Give us back the Dow People Place, senior urges City Hall

The new Suncor Agora in Sarnia’s Centannial Park. Troy Shantz

Troy Shantz

An 80-year-old music lover is lobbying City Hall to make improvements to the new Agora in Centennial Park, which she says is inferior to the facility it replaced.

The old Dow People Place was heavily used on summer nights, especially by the city’s growing senior population, because it had seating for concerts, a place to dance and a roof to shelter people in bad weather, says Irene Tessier.

The Agora stage is fronted by a concrete pad that’s too rough for dancing, with no seats or any protection from sun and rain, she added.

“The way it was, we loved it,” Tessier said.

Tessier shared her concerns with city council last month and had a subsequent sit-down with Sarnia parks and recreation director Rob Harwood to point out the shortcomings.

“The city has taken away a very important piece of Centennial Park. For myself and many others, it seems reasonable to ask for it back,” she told councillors.

The Suncor Agora stage and outdoor gathering space replaced the Dow People Place as part of a $13.5-million remediation of Centennial Park. The park reopened fully this summer, four years after oil, asbestos and lead were detected in the ground.

Harwood said the new Suncor Agora is a “base model” suitable for all age groups and that add-ons and enhancements can be added over time.

“The nice thing about having that space is that it’s a very large open piece of concrete,” he said. “We’re hoping that we can expand on its use and draw other age demographics down to the beautiful waterfront.”

Harwood, who wasn’t part of the original decision-making team, said he is actively seeking community input on how to improve the gathering spot.

“I don’t personally see us ever being done with making improvements to parks — Centennial or other parks,” he said. “We need to expand the use of all of our spaces, beyond just those that have been used in the past.”

Some residents have also questioned the orientation of the Agora stage. It faces southwest so the sound of bands and other performers won’t bother the residents in Front Street apartment towers, he said.

Future improvements to the Agora would have to come from the city’s operating budget or through new sponsorship deals, Harwood added.