Amherstburg will open streets to people and patios on summer weekends to help downtown businesses and build a buzz that will draw customers and their disposable incomes from our neighbouring municipalities and beyond.
The move comes in response to capacity issues created for restaurants and bars by COVID-19 physical distancing protocols, creating a pedestrian-friendly space linking the commercial strip to the award-winning King’s Navy Yard Park. The fact it is just steps away from Fort Malden and its walking path with spectacular water views only adds to the incredible potential.
The plan my fellow councillors and I endorsed unanimously Monday night would see Dalhousie Street and the western portions of Richmond and Murray Streets opened up to people, patios and outdoor experiences beginning about 5 p.m. Friday to Sunday evening. The vision calls for a market-like atmosphere with buskers and outdoor musicians to complement expanded patio and retail space and increased usage of King’s Navy Yard as an active park.
Open Air Weekends on the waterfront in historic Amherstburg is definitely something that can be marketed successfully to residents from Town and across the region looking for safe and unique entertainment and culinary experiences following the doldrums of the quarantine. It dovetails nicely with the ‘staycationing’ initiative being championed by the federal government, which is earmarking $40 million to promote holiday travel inside Canada.
Amherstburg is a key link in the region’s cycling network and the plan aims to be bicycle friendly by having 120 spaces outside the Open-Air zone to lock bicycles. Cyclists from Windsor to Leamington will no doubt plan their routes so they can take their beverage breaks on a patio in the downtown core. I’m already thinking about how sweet that ice cream cone will taste when I cycle down the Greenway on a hot day from my home in McGregor.
Concerns were raised about parking, particularly by businesses that weren’t in the hospitality sector, but the Town took pains to make sure a considerable number of accessible parking spots would be available in close proximity to the Open-Air zone. As well, the Town took an inventory and determined there were 549 public parking spaces within a 6-minute walk of Richmond and Dalhousie, including 312 within a three-minute walking radius.
I think it’s important that the Town help inform the public where these parking spots are located and work with the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce to encourage employees of area businesses to park farther away from the core, leaving the choice spaces to more transient visitors.
One restaurant owner told me he’d be happy to walk nine blocks in support of this ambitious plan and I believe him. A full 76 per cent of respondents to a Chamber of Commerce survey said they have seen a year-over-year drop in sales over the past three months. About 37 per cent of respondents had laid off 100 per cent of their staff while 63 per cent had laid off 50 per cent of their staff or less.
This is a bold plan born out of necessity that has the potential to help struggling businesses in the short-term and be transformative in the long-term. Administration did a fantastic job working with the Chamber to formulate this plan and is committed to keeping the lines of communication with businesses open going forward, making adjustments as necessary as the Town learns what works and what doesn’t.
CAO John Miceli said Monday night the Open-Air Weekend plan is just “one idea of many” that will be coming forward as the Town works with businesses and the Economic Development Committee on a fulsome Amherstburg Revitalization Strategy to help the local economy rebound from COVID-19. It’s an impressive start and I’m keen to see what comes next.