Building the Downtown in Thunder Bay

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A message from a less than happy downtown Fort William visitor in Thunder Bay
A message from a less than happy downtown Fort William visitor in Thunder Bay

Fort William Fashion - Photo by Jamie Bannish
Fort William Fashion – Photo by Jamie Bannish

Revitalization of Downtowns in Thunder Bay

THUNDER BAY – Thunder Bay’s downtown areas are the focus of a survey that will provide insight into what citizens value in downtown areas, and how those areas can play a vital role in the future of the city.

The Canadian Urban Institute’s research project Value of Investing in Northern Ontario’s Downtowns focuses on downtowns within Northern Ontario, including Thunder Bay. The survey can be completed at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/RPSLSXP.

Time for Your Input

“We’re excited to be included in this research project,” said Leslie McEachern, Manager – Planning Division. “The insight gleaned through this survey will help us to better develop and plan Thunder Bay’s downtown areas going forward, ensuring they offer a dense mixture of commercial, residential, and cultural land uses.”

In Thunder Bay there has been a hot real estate market, fueled in part by a larger demand for residential property than the current market supply. The situation in the rental market is even tighter. Individuals seeking to rent an apartment in Thunder Bay face a real challenge.

Unlike many cities where there are large numbers of people living downtown in apartments or condos, Thunder Bay has a much lower number of those downtown apartment buildings of major size. 

In many cities, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver, the rental and condo markets downtown are hot and premium properties. In Thunder Bay that is a mixed case.

The new condos on the north side of the city, in the Waterfront District are a solid change in the market.

Huge Potential for Real Estate Development

On the south side, in the Fort William downtown, there is, not only along Victoria Avenue, and May Street, but along Simpson Street the potential for really amazing development.

Changing the dynamics of an area, as demonstrated in many cities is bringing in people to the area. The more people who are active in an area, in many cases living in the area, paying mortgages, or rent, and the area can prosperous. 

Arden belts out a tune to a very attentive audience of one - Photo by Jamie Bannish
Arden belts out a tune to a very attentive audience of one – Photo by Jamie Bannish

On Saturday, September 7th, the Fort William Downtown Business Association hosted the annual Street Fair. Thousands of people were in attendance. With all the people in the downtown, the Thunder Bay Police had, in effect the easiest job. During the Street Fair, with all the people in the downtown there were no reported incidents of crime.

The reality in Thunder Bay might be that in terms of the downtown areas in Westfort, Fort William, the Waterfront District, and Current River, is that there is a demonstrated need for new ideas and strategies.

Making our downtown areas better means far more than branding, and far more than simple beautification plans.

What is needed is a strategy for revitalization of the areas.

While some point to the new provincial court house as a solution in the Fort William Downtown Business area, the reality is by about 4PM, that building will be emptying out.

The current status quo where there have been concerns over people loitering, street prostitution, and public intoxication is still likely to continue after the people working in the Court House head home for the day.

The downtown cores need to be safer, more friendly and more engaging for people well into the night.

Smiles for the Homeless
For twenty years Kim Coreau has been handing out smiles.

Right now in the downtown Fort William Business District if you are seeking a late evening meal, in effect you have few choices. After 7:00PM, you can dine at the Manderin Restaurant, Golden Wok, or Giorg Ristorante.

That means fewer people coming downtown unless they are looking to go to the two licenced establishments in the area.

Shopping opportunities are equally limited. After 5PM, the only shops open are Trixxx on May Street, and on Friday nights, Fresh Air Experience. 

Again building a thriving downtown area means there have to be reasons for people to come downtown.

Right now, the downtown south in Thunder Bay has a fairly thriving daytime experience for shoppers. However after the workers head home, the area changes quite a lot.

A message from a less than happy downtown Fort William visitor
A message from a less than happy downtown Fort William visitor

Combatting that means shifting strategies. Strategic planning for the downtown area is far too important to limit it to small areas, the planning needs to build well past the current model.

Homeless in Downtown Fort William
Homeless in Thunder Bay means finding space. Often Shelter House is full.

What is needed in Thunder Bay is to examine successes, not only in our city, there are many, but also what is working in other successful communities.

Additionally, the task should not be limited, but more open and free-wheeling than other efforts in common practice. All of the related players should be at the table from neighbourhood groups, business groups, business owners, the Chamber of Commerce, Youth Groups, First Nations groups and associations, and more.

There needs to be a strong presence from the District Social Services Administration Board, Shelter House, Superior Points, Addictions and Poverty Groups, and the federal and provincial governments.

Right now in Thunder Bay, in the Fort William Business District there is a time frame to start setting the area onto a wider, more secure and more prosperous future.

Everyone who has a stake in the future of the area should be engaged in the process. That will ensure that the greatest degree of success can be reached in the efforts put forward.

James Murray

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