Common Ground: Stuart Lazier and Tony Arrell
This duo is the driving force behind the creation of Creemore’s brand new $4.5-million Village Green, an initiative to provide a place for people to enjoy, for families to play, and for community events.
What happens when Tony Arrell, a community-minded farmer and investment adviser, hooks up with Stuart Lazier, a like-minded real estate magnate? Creemore’s brand-spanking new, $4.5-million Village Green, that’s what.
The project, which the duo initially thought would take a couple of years to complete, opened last summer, exactly four years after they came up with the idea. The complex process involved partnering with the Creemore Horticultural Society, which already maintained gardens on part of the proposed site, persuading the TD Bank to donate an adjacent property, creating a community foundation, forming an organizing committee, consulting with the public, hiring consultants to guide them through the project, as well as architects to design it and contractors to build it, and last but not least, raising a ton of money.
Despite his history in the real estate business, Stuart says, “Building a park is so different. Most people just see a pretty park. But it’s a much more significant project.”
Part of what made the Village Green different for the business-minded pair was involving the local residents. Their advisers, a company called Small, assisted with this process. Public meetings helped them integrate the views of some 650 people – and transform the project into a community-wide undertaking.
The green links Creemore’s existing Station on the Green community centre with the public gardens and the village’s main commercial district. The Station on the Green replicates a train station, and the Village Green also recognizes the village’s past with pathways that follow the route of the Hamilton & North-Western Railway, which ran through the village. Along the paths, aspects of village history are etched into granite pavers that suggest railway ties, and the new stage is reminiscent of a train platform.
Like so many grassroots initiatives, this one had its share of challenges. But the result has been hugely rewarding, not only for Stuart and Tony, but also for residents of Creemore, the townships of Clearview and Mulmur, where the two men live, and beyond. The project involved more than 60 volunteers and about 300 donors who gave anywhere from a few bucks to more than $100,000.
“We believe in giving back to our communities,” says Tony. And they’ve definitely done that. The green has already hosted many events, such as Fall Equinox and the Copper Kettle Festival. In warmer weather, kids use the splash pad, and the permanent table tennis setup is the busiest spot in the park.
Uses like these allow Stuart and Tony to believe they got it right. “It has been successful because the community has embraced the park,” says Stuart. But the two also recognize that the time will be the true test. Says Tony, “Success would be that five years from now it’s still a popular meeting place.” To ensure this outcome, they are continuing to raise funds – to create an endowment that will enable hiring a manager to organize events year-round and to fund future initiatives.
In this way, the Creemore Village Green should continue to be a community-building place where longtime residents rub shoulders with newcomers, weekenders and visitors.