Open Streets remains an open question

Once the pandemic is over, will Kingsville council and the local BIA have an open mind about making Open Streets Kingsville a permanent summer event?

It’s clear, judging from the the large crowds, that residents and staycationers from nearby towns and cities are enjoying the street dining experience.

“I do hope it evolves and it becomes something they consider in the future,” said Jennifer Flynn, general manager of the Grove Hotel.

But Beth Riddiford, chairwoman of the Business Improvement Area, said Open Streets Kingsville was never designed to be permanent.

“There are no plans going forward that this will be an annual thing, that this will become a summer thing,” she said.

Riddiford said the plan was developed to help restaurants and bars which at the time could not allow customers inside. Now that Windsor-Essex County has gone to Stage 3, bars and restaurants can allow customers inside, although some restaurants like The Main have chosen to keep their indoor dining space off-limits.

Open Streets was approved by Kingsville council until Labour Day weekend.

Despite the BIA’s intention that Open Streets be a temporary measure, there is widespread sentiment among downtown restaurants, bar owners and the hospitality sector that it should not only be made permanent, but expanded.

“Right now, there is a certain vibe that’s created (but) I think it’s missing something, whether it’s music, a market, bringing in more vendors. That sort of thing,” Flynn said.

For businesses along Division Street, Open Streets has had a negligible effect. “For my business, once they close the streets, we’re pretty much closed…,” said Maria Edwards, owner of New Designs, a flower and gift shop.

Edwards agreed a farmers’ market, live music or a special event, like an antique car show, would help expand the benefits of Open Streets to the section of Division between Beech and Pearl streets.

She said those types of attractions are currently prohibited because of the restrictions on large gatherings.

There are also complaints about the diversion of traffic to Beech and Pearl.

“There is a lot of traffic and people speeding up and down the street,” said one Beech Street resident. “It’s unsafe.”

In response to traffic concerns, the town has installed speed bumps along both side streets.

The entrepreneurs we have in our town, all the innovation and creativity, we could really make this something spectacular.

Coun. Laura Lucier, who is a town representative on the BIA, said there needs to be a post mortem by council and the BIA after Open Streets ends after Labour Day weekend.

“I think COVID has provided us with so many challenges, but also opportunities to do things differently … to try things we’ve never tried before,” she said.

Lucier likes the idea of future Open Streets, including more attractions so more businesses could benefit.

“The entrepreneurs we have in our town, all the innovation and creativity, we could really make this something spectacular.”

Lucier said she is in favour of Open Streets becoming a permanent feature during the summer but cautions that a funding model needs to be established to make it self-sustaining.

“Fees need to be put in place to participate and used to pay for security which removes the need for town staff and taxpayer money to fund it,” Lucier said.

Correction: Kingsville council has approved Open Streets until Labour Day weekend. It was previously reported Open Streets would end in late September.

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