Open Streets set for encore as town takes over summer event

KINGSVILLE — Open Streets will return to downtown Kingsville, but this summer it will be run by the town instead of the downtown Business Improvement Area (BIA).

The BIA endorsed the takeover after a group of Kingsville businesspeople asked the town to assume control.

The idea of open-air dining and beer patios was developed by the BIA last year at a time when lockdown restrictions prevented customers from entering restaurants and bars to dine and have a drink.

It continued after the restrictions were eased and proved popular with local residents and out-of-town visitors who enjoyed the open-air dining and patio experience.

A report to council prepared by CAO John Norton said there was “a lack of clarity on the roles and responsibilities” during last year’s event, particularly the unexpected role played by town staff in putting up and dismantling road barriers.

There were also extra cost incurred to ensure safety measures were being obeyed. The town paid staff $14,000 in overtime over the course of Open Streets.

The report said a survey of 141 people revealed widespread support for the open-air weekend event. The survey showed other groups — like the Highland games, the folk festival and art groups — were also interested in participating.

Depending on COVID-19 restrictions this summer, live entertainment, art and craft shows and a farmer’s market are some of the activities that could increase foot traffic on Division Street and help more retailers.

In an interview, Coun. Laura Lucier said a town-run event would allow non-downtown BIA members — like a food truck operator — to participate and potentially heighten foot traffic on the sections of Division Street that have no bars or restaurants.

She said the town will have to wait and see what restrictions on gatherings remain in place before expanding the scope of Open Streets.

She said live entertainment, arts and crafts shows and a farmer’s market are some of the activities that could increase foot traffic on Division and help more retailers.

The survey identified four areas of concern: cost to taxpayers, disruption of non-participating businesses, the spread of COVID-19 and increased traffic on side streets.

Coun. Larry Patterson said “one of the angles we didn’t concentrate on too much last year was some of the poor driving habits” along Beech and Pearl streets, the two detour routes. “It’s good … we now have someone we can direct our concerns and work them out,” he said.

Coun. Tony Gaffan, a local businessman and BIA board member, said ceding control to the town frees up the BIA and its members to concentrate on giving tourists and residents “the best service they can.”

In an interview Tuesday, Gaffan said the BIA was frequently under fire on social media from critics who said Open Streets favoured Main Street’s bars and restaurants over retail shops.

Like Lucier, he said the town-run event will be open to all businesses in Kingsville — not just downtown BIA members — and should broaden the benefits to more businesses.

Norton said the cancellation of big summer events like the Highland games festival made in imperative that the town press ahead with Open Streets this summer.

He said the town is still in the planning stages for this year’s event but is looking at ways to cut costs, like the use of volunteers and students to do some of the jobs previously done by town staff.

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