Saturday, September 22, 2007

Piecing together a future, downtown

I unexpectedly found this treasure in today's Windsor Star and am not surprised to see that Larry Horwitz wrote it, considering all I hear about him (I've never met him, but aim to correct that very soon). The momentum is building towards truly understanding what is needed for a healthy Windsor, and a strong downtown heart is the first puzzle-piece that must be in place.

'Creative class' will transform Windsor's core

Windsor Star
Saturday, September 22, 2007

Let's stop complaining about downtown Windsor not being the way you want it to be -- let's do something about it. You have the power to change your downtown. Once every century an opportunity occurs that can change the texture and quality of downtown. Not since Gordon McGregor formed Ford Motor Company of Canada Ltd. in 1904 has the occasion presented itself for a monumental cultural and economic genesis of a city centre.

The University of Windsor's Centre of Engineering Innovation could transform, rejuvenate and revitalize the downtown core. The campus is 300,000 square feet in size with rooftop windmills, a treed central atrium enclosed by solar glass and a green roof designed to catch rainwater -- an attraction that Windsorites, tourists and conventions will marvel at. When you combine the U of W engineering campus with the St. Clair College campus in the former Cleary International Centre we can give birth to a "creative class" in the core and a vision that will have a lasting impact. By introducing our children to downtown in their post-secondary years, we create a nucleus that will seize the opportunity to transform the core. They will make it safer, more attractive and create innovative businesses and services.

The "creative class" will populate the city centre. They will sip beverages in coffee houses, browse in bookstores, reside in lofts and walk their dogs in green spaces. Remember when downtown was Marilyn Brooks, The Tea Room, Birks Jewellers, Dacks Shoes and other retail shops? They will not return -- but will be renewed by healthier, trendier type outlets that cater to a fresh young audience. Research shows that a vibrant downtown boasts the economic health and quality of life in a community. It creates jobs, incubates small companies and raises property values. A healthy downtown is a symbol of community pride and history.

New York City, Kitchener, Ann Arbor, Mich., Dallas Tex., London, Ont., Newark, N.J., and scores of other cities have transformed their downtowns by creating university campuses in their downtown hubs. These forward-thinking cities have created a blueprint for a downtown recovery and revitalization strategy that is easy to follow. "Success lies in creating a place where creative experience can flourish," says former Seattle mayor Paul Schell. We have that place, we only need to select its occupants.

Kitchener is giving $35.5 million to create two satellite campuses in its core. The University of Waterloo and Wilfred Laurier are coming downtown, creating a partnership between the city and the universities. New retail and restaurants are springing up because of this development. Jeffrey Leder of the University of Waterloo says, "for the university, service learning also plays an important role in educating and developing community.... It challenges universities to broaden their missions toward becoming engaged campuses supporting not only what is important to them within their own domain but outside as well." McMaster University is also very engaged and is a strong advocate of the rejuvenation of its city core. In 2002, James K. Bartleman, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, spoke about how McMaster had played and is playing a significant role in the ongoing efforts to revitalize the downtown.
The transition of downtown Windsor to an education based "cafe society," or as Mighigan Governor Jennifer Granholm calls it, a "cool city," has begun with the St. Clair campus locating in the core. In a short period of time more than 500 students have had an economic and social effect on downtown.

They are shopping, sipping coffee and looking to be involved in social and educational activities.

Bob Williams of the Downtown Diner has already seen a positive change in his clientele. He sees the addition of an engineering campus as affecting the entire texture of downtown. Tim Hortons' Vicky Smith, past chairwoman of the DWBIA, is also excited by the possibilities and can see it as changing the face of our downtown. The BIA strongly supports having a Centre of Engineering Innovation campus in its core. We will do what it takes in manpower, incentive and energy to be a welcome centre. We have shown what we can do for St. Clair students and faculty and hope to prove the same for the University of Windsor.

The Downtown Business Association has been changing its direction toward creating a new healthy, clean and safe city centre we can be proud of. It has created a facade incentive program, a clean team, security cameras, streetscape and a chess park. Its focus and direction is business recruitment and these initiatives can help bring us to that goal. "Luck is being prepared and being in the right place at the right time." We are prepared and now we need the citizens of Windsor's assistance. Not since I moved back from New York City 10 years ago have I been so excited about an opportunity for downtown. It is time for us to nurture, grow up and transform ourselves.

I ask, YOU, the citizens of Windsor to support and encourage the Engineering School of the University of Windsor to come downtown.

I ask visionaries Ross Paul, Marty Komsa, Dave Cooke and Ed Lumley to broaden their mission and revitalize and recreate the texture of downtown into a cafe society.

I ask the honourable mayor and council, who have done a remarkable job with St. Clair College, to remove any impediments to making downtown a two campus urban village.

I ask Premier Dalton McGuinty and cabinet ministers Sandra Pupatello and Dwight Duncan, who realize how downtown campuses have revitalized other Ontario cities, to assist us in making a downtown facility a reality.

I ask the Downtown BIA to support in every way imaginable (i.e. manpower, programming and incentives) a two- campus downtown.

By working as a team we can make it happen.

Larry Horwitz is the chairman of the Windsor Business Improvement
Association. E-mail: Phone: 817-6264.

© The Windsor Star 2007


Anonymous said...

Windsorites can make downtown a better place by spending a little less time bitching about it and a little more time going down there and showing their support for those enterprises that are still active downtown. It's a two-way street. No one is going to invest their time and money into a sector of the city when its reputation precedes itself, and is plagued by all this negativity I see and hear from Windsorites who probably haven't been downtown since Trudeau was in power.

Anonymous said...

Visitors will help on weekends but we need a consistent customer base 7 days a week. The only thing that will do that is a university campus or more residents for a self sustaining critical mass of customers.

We've always thought about downtown as the cart before the horse. If you put bodies downtown, the businesses are pretty good about figuring that out and locating by their customers.

Not only does it needs more residential it specifically needs a more diverse demographic. I'm not saying that we need to have southwood lakes downtown, but how about some townhouses in the 250k range. Look at Brush street in Detroit. Those residences sell for 250k, why can't we build some of those?

Even in Detroit, a city that lost 50,000 residents last year. Focused residential incentives downtown allowed for an increase in the downtown population by well over 1000. If detroit can change their perception of their downtown to potential residents, we can too

Anonymous said...

With all the condos that have been built downtown in the last 30 years, should residency be up compared to, say, the 1930's when downtown was a bustling epicentre? Where are all these people spending their money? Sometimes it's easy to jump in the car and ride off to some mall or plaza across the city when those things you need are right under your nose, a block or two or three away.

Chris Holt said...

I guess it's sort of a chicken-or-the-egg scenario here. People won't start to "live" downtown until they have the amenities necessary to conduct their lives. The private sector won't provide those amenities until there is a critical mass of people downtown 24/7 to make their endeavours profitable.

It's the same thing with public transit - you won't gain ridership until the service improves, but Transit Windsor won't improve the service until the ridership increases.

What is needed is government (in this case - municipal) incentives to one or the other side of this equation to help cusion the blow of being the pioneers. Our local government could provide incentives to lure commercial enterprises (besides kiddie bars) to the core that would entice people to move there. Either that, or residential incentives to entice the "first wave" of new residents through economic gains so they can wait until the private sector sees the benefit of providing the necessities downtown.

Either way - it is up to our city council to see that this needs to be done and get going, already!

Anonymous said...

I'm with ya so far, but is there a considerable vacancy rate in the existing homes, condos, and apartments downtown to begin with Is downtown really missing the "critical mass" you speak of? I don't think so. There are plenty of people living downtown. The problem is a combination of its existing residents not supporting local businesses and suburbians not going downtown at all.

In my own situation, I think of all the times my neighbours drive to Walmart for their drugs when there is a small pharmacy around the corner, or Zehrs when there are numerous grocers around the neighbourhood (that provide better products), or Petsmart for their dogfood when there is a store in the area that sells that. We Windsorites in many ways make our own problems WITH OR WITHOUT city council's help. Then we cry foul when that longtime local merchant we supposedly loved so much goes out of business...

Anonymous said...

Some of the condo's are the problem. In the state's they have actually figured out that buildings above 5 stories have residents that are less likely to interact with the surroundings.

We need townhouses and different types of residences other than high rises.

I don't think that downtown is missing amenities can you name some?

The only amenities I see us missing are a butcher and a florist.

I've heard grocery stores mentioned before but we have much of that.

As far as amenities go, there is nowhere in the city that can even come close to comparing.

We need bodies, we need people understanding that there are two basic benefits to living in a core
drive time and all the additional amenities you can spend that time on.

The university and college are the best because they can serve as recruiting grounds for new residents. As the student's graduate they know what downtown has to offer and can be recruited as residents.

Anonymous said...

Downtown has perhaps the largest density of cultural attractions in the city, and that should be played to the max. There is a considerable amount of social activities to be found, but how does it rate in the daily necessities? (I live in Old Walkerville and don't stray too far from here)

Is there a place to buy fresh produce on a regular basis that is open after hours? I know A&P is somewhat close, but is there any other choices? Drug and clothing stores? You can puchase your staples at variety stores, but they really aren't very cost effective. Toilettries and paper products? Day care services for young families? Good elementary schools?

There needs to be alternative entertainment choices for those who are not into the bar scene as well. If I was designing the perfect downtown, those are some of the things that I would love to see.

And they are the things that will bring people downtown to live if they are provided. Downtown needs eyes on the street for safety. Eyes that actually live there and have a vested interest in the success of the core area.

Perhaps one of the best things the city could do is advertise that there ARE actually the amenities (if the previous commenter is correct) and provide an interactive map online of where to find them.

The big thing is perspective, and right now people view the downtown as a place for 19 - 20 year olds to get drunk, vomit and fight.

Anonymous said...

Drug and clothing stores?

Royal Windsor pharmasy
Shoppers on Ouellette
Yee's Pharmacy

As for clothing
Capish Bling Bling
Collage Boutizue & Gift Shop
Family Foot Solution
Felix Fashions and Accessories
Footstep's Shoes
Get Fresh
Jubilee Shoes
Lou Myles Disegnatore
The Men's Store
Odel's Jeans
Penny Lane

Groceries, staples and toiletries

Asian Food Imports - Bhullar Plaza
Food & Drug Basics
Park Groceries & Gifts
Pelissier Fine Foods
Windsor Korean Oriental Food Market

Day care services for young families? Good elementary schools?

Lacking but most adults are getting married and having kids later. we could use those singles and newlyweds up into their 30's

As for alternate entertainment other than bars, thats curious as many licenced establishments provide it without having to drink alcohol.

You have poetry readings at Phog. You have movie nights at Milk coffee bar. I've seen Philosophy discussions by the U.of W. at Patrick O'Ryans. You have outdoor movies at the art gallery, a festival per week at the riverfront in the summer, film fest and bookfest in the fall. Many of the cafe's provide board games.

Does downtown have entertainment problems, sure. We have a real violence issue between 2am and 4am on pelissier and wyandotte that no one wants to deal with. Very separately we have a mainly harmless noise and rowdyism problem after 10pm on Ouellette. Both could be dealt with if we had the will. These problems would be dealt with if we had a stronger residential base crying out.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone considered the impact of a downtown campus on students?

Yes - sounds like a great idea - but who will pay to transport students back and forth between campuses? Who will pay the additional maintenance staff for a downtown campus?

There are many extra costs associated with having an off-campus location.

Who will pay this? Will the city contribute an annual amount? Will the province? All we've heard is "up to" $40 million.

If it can be done revenually neutral and without negatively impacting the students - then GREAT!

But the details are a little fuzzy aren't they?

While a downtown location would be a great opportunity - we cannot ignore the reality of additional costs and transportation issues.

Chris Holt said...

What a great list! Thanks for taking the time and laying it out for us, Anon!

Now, this information has to be readily available from the DWBIA in their marketing campaigns so that future residents will know that they have pretty much everything available to them after they move downtown.

As for the possible transportation and maintenance issues of a downtown campus, I don't see how that would be an issue. Sorry. The University is going to be deciding between a new greenfield suburban campus and a downtown one, so I think the choice would be clear as to which one would prove more cost effective as far as transportation goes. A downtown campus would literally be just down the street from the main campus and I am sure that Transit Windsor would rise to the occasion and improve service between the two campus'. Same goes for any maintenance.

Yes, there are pros and cons of each possible location, but I think, in the end, that the downtown location would benefit the whole community for generations to come, in ways that we can only imagine. This is a way to breathe life back into the heart of the city, and without a healthy heart, the rest of the city will flounder.

ac said...

that was a great list, as there were some I didn't even realize existed. However, while there may be plenty, what is the walking distances between these establishments? People are less likely to walk to them if you need to walk 5 blocks to get to one, 8 to another, etc. My opinion is, while there are some good retail downtown, they are few and far between.

Also, as far as the DWBIA, if they are not a paying member, the DWBIA will not promote it. Even if they are a member, they will not promote individual businesses. I've had discussions with many downtown businesses who refuse to give the DWBIA any money or recognition due to the perception they only promote and hold events at the establishments of board members. Whether this is true or not I cannot personally answer this, but, that is the perception out there by many downtown business owners. What needs to happen is more small businesses working together instead of fighting against each other.

A united front can go a lot further in attracting customers and more businesses than an "each owner for themselves" attitude.

ac said...

On the transportation of students to a downtown campus, Georgia Tech has a shuttle to their midtown Technology Square campus. This campus also includes some retail and office mixed in at ground level and is said to have completely revitalized midtown Atlanta.

I am sure a deal can be reached with Transit Windsor that could provide a regular U of W shuttle just for the purpose of traveling between main campus and a downtown campus.

Anonymous said...

There are no transportation cost issues. Student fees include a Transit windsor pass, so thats done.

City of Edmonton spent 16 million on a building to locate a downtown campus. Larry Horwitz article mentions more examples.

The top 10 midsize cities in the U.S. have university campus's within or adjacent to their boundaries. That isn't a coincidence. A good example is number two which is Ann Arbour. Number one is Boulder Colorado.
Portland, Oregon is another good example.

But within Canada its Kitchener Waterloo we should be emulating

"The downtown campus was made possible by a $30 million commitment from Kitchener’s $110 million economic development investment fund. The city has also agreed to facilitate the transfer of 8.27 acres of land at the corner of King and Victoria Streets from private ownership to UW to establish the downtown campus. In addition to the School of Pharmacy, the campus will include a Family Medicine Teaching Centre that combines clinical care with teaching and research in family medicine. "

Additional costs zilch or close to that, additional benefits, unlimited

Anonymous said...

Downtown business have little choice in their contribution, it is automatically deducted from property taxes. The only way it can be stopped is if the majority vote to dissolve the DWBIA. That could be a possibility as there are many who are frustrated with the state of downtown. Look at streetscaping, it was deferred and delayed, originally supposed to be completed by superbowl.

As to the perception that they only hold events at board members locations, its completely false. May be a perception issue but it wouldn't stand to any scrutiny

ac said...

like I said....perception. I can't agree with it, I was just stating what many downtown business owners have said to me. Sadly perception can sometimes be more powerful than fact.