I’ve worked downtown for more than 40 years, and I’ve been quite concerned about the deterioration we’ve seen in recent years.
That’s why, when I was elected in 2018, improving the downtown was one of my missions.
We set up a Downtown Task Force about 18 months ago made up of organizations with a stake in the core: businesses, Laurier, health, police and others.
The task force developed a program with three major components.
First, make it safer.
You can have all kinds of activities downtown but if people don’t feel safe, they don’t show up.
We now have police walking the beat 24-7. We’ve added eight new special constables who focus on the downtown and have powers under several laws, such as the Trespass Act and Mental Health Act. We’ve added closed circuit cameras. The city has hired a security firm to monitor city-owned properties.
And we have several programs designed to help the homeless and substance abusers to get off the street and into accommodation and/or treatment.
We’re also working with MP Larry Brock, who is raising the issue in Ottawa, that bail reform has resulted in some dangerous people getting back out on the street.
Second, make the downtown more vital.
As covid has ebbed, we’ve seen a return to community events in Harmony Square: concerts, movies, flag raising, roller-skating and more. The Sanderson Centre is now back to a full program. And Laurier is running more events for students in the core.
Laurier, which owns the former Market Square Mall, wants to turn it into an entertainment hub. They want to convert the former movie theatres on the second floor into a performing art centre to be used by community arts groups. They also want to see restaurants and other amenities in the building. It could be a significant draw in the core.
Third, have more people living downtown.
There are already some plans for new apartment developments on Market Street.
However, the underground services such as water and hydro are old and falling apart. They need to be rebuilt so they can support buildings that are eight or 10 stories tall. Those are the kinds of developments you want to see in the downtown.
Council has approved a plan to spend $25 million over the next five years to rebuild those services and, at the same time, create a new streetscape. There will be new streetlights, new sidewalks and other features to make it more people friendly. We’ll even have a new garbage collection system, so you won’t see bags out on the street.
It will be a complicated project, so we are working closely with downtown businesses and others to minimize the impact it will have on them.
Once it’s done, though, we will see new developments on land that is vacant or derelict right now.
The task force will continue to meet regularly and will hold annual summit meetings to review the status of the plan and any new ideas or action plans.
As we push forward with our plans, the downtown will become a safer, livelier place with more people enjoying more amenities. It will return to its role as the heart of our city.
To see the downtown plan, go here: https://www.brantford.ca/en/your-government/resources/Downtown-Brantford-Priority-Plan-A-Community-Vision-for-the-City-Centre.pdf