In this space, the Rose City Politics panel will analyze, breakdown, and critique a local political issue that affects each and every Windsor resident.
For June 2021, the Rose City Politics panel opines on both new downtown residential construction and renovation, a new central library on the horizon, the potential for the redevelopment of The Barn by the Windsor Express, and what these opportunities can provide for downtown Windsor and the city as a whole.
Don Merrifield Jr.: Downtown Windsor, much like the Detroit Lions, is on year 45 of it’s 5 year rebuilding plan. Many plans and ideas have come and gone, some happened like the Aquatic Centre, and many others didn’t. But if you haven’t been paying attention during our last year-plus of lockdown while we all took on the challenge to “Make Our Stretchy Pants Tight Again”, some good things are happening. Residential redevelopment, new residential development, increasing downtown home values, and Quicken Loans & Rocket Mortgages moving into the old Fish Market are all positive steps to revitalize the downtown core.
What downtown has needed at the most basic level is more people living downtown. Residents make commercial development feasible, new retail businesses get customers, and the area just has a feeling of coming to life. Continuing on with some of the positive ideas that we had the last year – like extended outdoor patios – can only add to downtown core momentum.
All these positive happenings still don’t mask a problem that keeps many residents from coming downtown: homelessness, mental health issues, and addiction problems of a population that congregates in the downtown area is a big problem with no easy solutions. The concentration of community services for these issues in the core exacerbates the issue. A focus on policing and real help for those who find themselves in these unfortunate circumstances is probably the biggest factor in helping the core area reach its full potential. It’s an issue we can’t ignore if we want the downtown to continue to make progress.
With COVID19 hopefully in our rear view mirrors, soon events like the Farmers Market, the Windsor International Film Festival, weekend road closures, and my personal idea for Mad Max Bird Scooter races, can only bring more positives for the downtown area.
Don Merrifield Jr. is a realtor serving Windsor Essex County for over 21 year, a co-host on Rose City Politics for over 10 years, a former professional musician, father and grandfather, and a former ward 3 city council candidate.
Doug Sartori: Efforts to revitalize downtown have been a constant in Windsor for decades. Municipal election platforms in 1974 touted plans to redevelop the downtown. In the 1980s, plans for an enclosed downtown mall were floated. In the 1990s, casino gambling and a blockbusting office tower were the flavour of the month. More recently, Adventure Bay was constructed at great expense with massive, ongoing operating losses. Council, developers and boosters have tried one idea after another to inject new life into the city’s core neighbourhood.
Besides Casino Windsor – now Caesars Windsor – few of these plans have brought real progress. Public First’s Windsor Works report makes the point Windsor has learned from experience: “There are very few examples of new sports stadiums or art galleries that, by themselves, have turned their part of the city around, and all too many examples of major civic infrastructure projects becoming white elephants.”
City Council has made progress in recent years with a Community Improvement Plan incentivizing residential development. It’s not flashy, but it works: tax incentives have brought incremental, accelerating growth in residential development. Beyond the CIP, there are other signs of life: a growing number of Detroit tech firms have found a home downtown. Community efforts like the Windsor International Film Festival have blossomed. Moving forward, Council should consider what’s failed and what’s been successful, using those lessons to move forward. We have enough evidence to know misguided investments in big-ticket flops aren’t the answer.
Building on the success of the CIP, Windsor should work to bring professionals back to the city core. Council’s approval of commercial development on Rhodes Drive, an area that should be devoted to industry, did tremendous damage to the viability of commercial spaces downtown. That’s a done deal, but Council should find ways to reverse the damage and work to make downtown the vital place to work, live and play this city needs it to be.
Doug Sartori is a political observer and organizer. When he’s not recording podcasts or getting people out to vote he runs Parallel 42 Systems, a technology consultancy in downtown Windsor.
Disclosure: Pat Papadeas is the Vice-Chair of the Downtown Windsor Business Improvement Association (DWBIA), on the board of the Windsor International Film Festival (WIFF) and a founding member of the Downtown Districting Committee.
I have never been more optimistic about downtown’s revitalization prospects than the path we are on right now. The Windsor Works report reinforced what many of us have been saying for years: the success of downtown Windsor is central to quality of life, economic development and overall success of our region. After too many years of municipal leadership that was misguided in plans, monopoly moves, expropriations and silver bullet solutions, we have local leadership that is starting to get it.
It is imperative that the vision for downtown revitalization be organically developed by actors who are on the ground and active in the daily life and current successes of the downtown. In the summer of 2020, we saw a wildly successful patio season downtown. City Council approvals came in a matter of days and administration moved swiftly to help make it happen. The result? A frontrow seat in what a bustling downtown can look like.
The CIP has paved the way for reinvestment and new development, particularly in long overdue residential projects. On the horizon: a new public library, the streetscaping of University Avenue and the Civic Esplanade development. There is welcome engagement by St. Clair College and UWindsor, and an appreciation that mere presence is not enough. They are integral to the life force of a new downtown dynamic and they are at the table. There is increased community awareness, research, and engagement through excellent initiatives like those led by the Windsor Law Centre for Cities.
We must urgently address provincial tax relief programs that are the leftovers of a recession. We have too many property owners who are incentivized to keep their properties vacant. City Council needs to press the provincial government to rectify this. Over a dozen new businesses have opened up during the pandemic but there are many more that want to do business and cannot find a willing landlord.
We need to address (as does every city) our community’s social issues, not only for the good of downtown, but because it is the right thing to do. We are seeing incremental but important progress, largely led by some strong agency leadership that ascribes to the Housing First approach, increased outreach, and stronger leadership at Windsor Police Services. But the perception of safety can be as limiting as the reality. The secret to addressing safety perceptions can be found in numbers: critical mass. Look no further than a snapshot of downtown during the Downtown Windsor Famer’s Market or the Windsor International Film Festival.
If there is one thing every person in the region should do this summer, it’s to come stroll downtown, be part of the bustle, and rediscover the city’s heart and soul.
Pat Papadeas is a legal studies professor at St. Clair College and co-author of the textbook Canadian Business Law (Emond Publishing). She is active in organizations that directly or indirectly support a bold and vibrant downtown.
The Rose City Politics panel includes Doug Sartori, Pat Papadeas, Don Merrifield Jr., and Jonathon Liedtke.
Rose City Politics broadcasts Wednesday nights at RoseCityPolitics.ca, is available on all your favourite podcasting and social media apps, and appears in print monthly in Biz X Magazine.
[This column first appeared in the June 2021 issue of BizX Magazine.