Editorial Viewpoint – The Trials And Tribulations Of Downtown Windsor (Part 1)
“There’s not a lot of love for downtown Windsor,” says Ryan Smith, contemplating the plight of what should be the city’s flagship, but it plods along instead with an image problem that discourages non-core residents from making downtown spending excursions — or coming downtown at all.
Smith has been the Owner/Operator of Pause Café, a cozy soup, salad, sandwich and specialty ice cream shop at 74 Chatham Street West, for 15 years. In 10 of those years, he served as a member of the Downtown Windsor Business Improvement Association (DWBIA), before he was voted out in a contrived purge of the board last December.
The amiable Smith betrays no bitterness in losing that thankless volunteer job as he shows me a bundle of invoices representing the names of 65 downtown restaurants that have closed during his time at Pause. He calls it the “death list.”
Chain coffee shop Starbucks is the latest on the list. When it closed its prime downtown Windsor location at the end of July, after 15 years at the corner of Ouellette and University Avenues, it was another blow to downtown’s solar plexus.
Shortly after, BB Branded Lifestyle & Sneaker Boutique closed its downtown location at 347 Ouellette Avenue, also after 15 years, consolidating its retail outlet, and online ordering services, at Devonshire Mall.
“Retail downtown is almost non-existent,” informs Smith, although he acknowledges the offsetting advances made by the relocation of University of Windsor and St. Clair College campuses downtown, as well as private sector office conversions surrounding his café.
“Some people are overly optimistic about downtown and some people are overly pessimistic,” he understates.
In this, the first of a two-part series on downtown, the focus is largely negative because, in many people’s eyes, downtown has reached the nadir of its existence.
Windsor’s core has confronted a number of negative phases over the last quarter of a century — the strip club, “Sin City” label, and the downtown kiddy bar craze, to name a couple. And now we are mired in a homelessness, opioids drug epidemic.In a game changer for downtown Windsor in March of 2018 City of Windsor Council made a decision to sell the Central Library, 850 Ouellette, to the Downtown Mission, for the bargain price of $3.6 million. And now the city is spending $1.77 million to transform the Paul Martin Building, at 185 Ouellette, into a temporary library.
One merchant calls the library moves insane, cutting downtown in half.
He likened this caper to the city’s construction of a $77.6 million aquatics centre, opened in 2014 at 401 Pitt Street West, and harshly labelled by some as a cash sucking white elephant, on land that was originally expropriated for an arena that wound up being built next to the Tecumseh border.
“I can’t believe what a silly venture that was,” says Smith, who describes the economic impact of the downtown Windsor International Aquatic and Training Centre on the core as “absolutely zilch . . . it could be in south Windsor for all it benefits downtown.”
This is not to mention the drive to locate a mega-hospital on the County Road 42 outskirts.
“I can’t fathom in this day and age how a Mayor can support urban sprawl and justify it,” Smith states.
Linked together you can equate this string of decision-making as evidence of a city managed by the seat of its pants.
“I’m really upset Starbucks closed,” laments Ron Balla, Owner of The Coffee Exchange nearby at 266 Ouellette Avenue. “It added legitimacy to the core. It was re-assuring to visitors.”