For the last several years, Council has focused on the large infrastructure projects that are currently coming online in downtown St. Catharines. As these projects get up and running, the time has come for Council to shift its focus to other areas; specifically, the downtown retail sector.
The retail sector on and around St. Paul St. has been hurting for a very long time. With the advent of shopping malls and miles and miles of ‘free’ parking, it has been hard to rally people to head downtown to do any shopping. Over the last several years, the Downtown Association has tried in a few areas to increase the visibility of downtown retailers, but the success has been mixed. I believe it is incumbent on the next group of City Councillors to move Economic Development to create a retail strategy for downtown St. Catharines that augments and expands the work that is being done by the DTA to promote downtown retail.
Our desire for a walkable, livable downtown encompasses several components; with increased residential properties, new entertainment venues and more public realm improvements, we are on our way towards this goal. But increased retail activity is also a necessity – a part of the concept that mixed use is usually the best use for any space – and there are ways for us to move in this direction. What it requires is concerted effort on our part as City Council. While the hope for the retail vibrancy of the early part of the last century is unreasonable, there does exist an opportunity for niche retailers to take advantage of the renewed focus on downtown. It is our job, as City Councillors, to encourage those entrepreneurs willing to take the plunge.