A Carousel of Ideas for Downtown Fort William

The Hub
Traffic stopping! As The Hub has come together, the bright lights have attracted people - a key component for downtown revitalizing energy
Traffic stopping! As The Hub has come together, the bright lights have attracted people – a key component for downtown revitalizing energy

THUNDER BAY – BUSINESS – Downtown Fort William has been on the minds of many people in the city of Thunder Bay. I have to admit that most days the optics are not good, as this area of the city is in the process of revitalization, and is having its challenges. I have a front row seat in a chair that faces Victoria Ave. East, one door down from a pub that many have labeled the most notorious in our city.

The Hub
Bright, colourful, vibrant and enticing – The Hub Bazaar at 507 East Victoria Avenue is now open for business

As in any community, there is a host of characters walking through their days, some with clear intent, and others wandering the hours away. This neighbourhood is no different and from this window of clear view, I have been able to decipher some of the issues that face the south core downtown.

Statistics are reporting that sixty percent of the businesses operating in downtown Fort William are owned and operated by women.

This percentage is quite impressive as the ratio of men versus women who are self-employed in Canada is at a 35-65 split as of 2013.

Having participated in an economic revitalization of a small village outside the city of Thunder Bay before 9/11 wreaked havoc on the tourism industry in Northwestern Ontario, and as a restaurateur in the revitalization of downtown Port Arthur, I know that all projects start with a clear vision.

The revitalization of the north side of the city was achieved with the cooperation of visionary entrepreneurs, a vibrant arts community, their local Business Improvement Association and the City of Thunder Bay. This collaborative team worked year after year and is reaping the rewards of their efforts today. Their shared vision, the plan they put into place and the implementation of that plan has created a vibrant community again. The waterfront is still in development and will be an asset to this city for generations.

May Street in Thunder Bay's Fort William downtown
May Street in Thunder Bay’s Fort William downtown noticeably cleaner

Coming to downtown Fort William was a conscious decision. Joining an established business community that had seen better days was an under statement. This side of the city is no different than our neighbours to the north but is in need of a vision, a plan of action, a team to implement it and an amazing attraction.
I am on record of being in favour of the demolition of Victoriaville but after having watched the street from my shop window and speaking with our diverse community, I have changed that view. I have also been made aware that this side of the city, although looking for change, would like to see revitalization without gentrification. I am in agreement.

The Victoriaville Centre is cracking down on smokers outside their doors as well as loitering
The Victoriaville Centre is cracking down on smokers outside their doors as well as loitering

Victoriaville is in need of a reinvention to become not only successful financially but successful in changing the dynamic of downtown Fort William.
I envision a new Victoria Civic Centre, a three-season community space housing an amazing attraction such as Mrs. King’s Carousel now located at Chippewa Park. (With their permission of course)

The Fort William Parks Board purchased this carousel that was built by Charles Wallace Parker from Mrs. Maude King for $583.33 on June 21, 1934 when she became aware she was bankrupt while operating her carnival at Chippewa Park.

Removing the entrances to Victoriaville would lower a substantial heating cost and leaving a portion of the roof to cover the carousel could help with the expenditure of dismantling the roof. We now would have a downtown that had been cut in two reunited with this thoroughfare. I envision umbrella-covered tables, local Buskers, retail peddlers, Pow wows, families enjoying Mrs. King’s carousel, business lunches, live music, a bike lane and the opportunity for Fort William to be added to the list of places to visit in Thunder Bay.

I am pleased to share this proposed vision and if it becomes a shared vision we will need a plan of action, a team to implement that plan, and with this amazing attraction our downtown can find, in this woman’s opinion, its way back to community pride with prosperity.

Lori Paras

NetNewsLedger invites columns from community leaders with a vision to make our city a better place.

The views, opinions, and positions expressed by all columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of NetNewsledger.

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