Right now there are plenty of terrific things happening in St. Thomas: our homebuilders are attracting lots of newcomers to the community; the City is investing in a new soccer field complex on the north side of town and adding a social services campus at the west end of Talbot Street; our manufacturing sector has diversified and rebounded over the past decade; the Elgin Mall is being revitalized by new owners after decades of decline; and the Railway City Tourism office has developed some great local events like the Railway City Arts Crawl.
Oh, but downtown St. Thomas … how can we turn around this part of the community? There are some awesome local businesses and services in the core, but here is the test: on a bright summer day, where would you most like to be? Is your answer downtown St. Thomas? Think of all the options within a two-hour drive – would downtown St. Thomas show up on your list of five places where you want to spend that bright summer day? Maybe, but if most people answer no, we have work to do. And that’s fine … there are always ways to make things better!
Here is our list of Top Ten Ways to Transform Downtown St. Thomas:
- Bump-Out Sidewalks
This is an easy one! Other communities are doing this, so why not in St. Thomas? Temporary sidewalks are installed in parking spaces in front of downtown restaurants, bars, and cafés. This frees up the sidewalks for summer patios! Put out some tables, chairs, and colourful umbrellas, and for the love of Jumbo, crank the music!
- Downtown Playgrounds
Is our downtown sketchy and kind of creepy? It sure is! Do you know what is not sketchy and creepy? Kids playing and running around and having fun! Would the City be able to work with a local developer or two and bring a couple of playground spaces downtown?
- Instagram Photo-Spots
If you want visitors to come downtown, give them a great spot for a photo! Where is our landmark photo spot? Check out this example from Kingston.
Better yet, how about five spots for great photos around the city? Perhaps something fun at the Jumbo statue, the Elevated Park, the Horton Market, the CASO Station, and Pinafore Park. We’re just getting the ball rolling! There are lots of options and plenty of ways to be creative.
- Outdoor Ping-Pong Tables
Why not? Our downtown has lots of little parkettes that have limited room, but definitely enough room for outdoor ping-pong tables! They sell ‘em at Costco!
- Up the Hygge-Factor with Lighting and Events in the Alleys
Many of our alleyways are kind of cool, but recently we have found used needles in some of these spaces downtown. How about we turn these dark, vacant areas into warm, inviting event spots? Take a look at the photo below. What if we hung strands of LED lights over the beams, put picnic tables with white tablecloths down the middle, lit some candles, and had two or three ‘Downtown Dinners in the Alley’ every summer featuring locally-sourced food and drinks?
- Convert Old Railway Cars into Food Trucks and Mobile Kitchens
If we want to continue to be ‘The Railway City’ – even in the absence of much railway activity – perhaps we can reinvent our heritage and facilitate the growth of what makes our region truly special, specifically the abundance of productive farmland and food innovators!
Imagine a downtown park space that features a food truck plaza. We could look at the lands behind the CASO Station owned by the City and the Elgin County Railway Museum, and finally clean up the grounds and invest in a ‘Railway City Food Park’ … this would be a neat compliment to the Horton Market nearby. Draw out the entrepreneurs and the foodies!
- Interactive Way-finding Boards
Pick three top places that locals and tourists visit in downtown St. Thomas (say, the Art Centre, CASO Station, and the Horton Market). Install interactive way-finding signs at each spot. These signs would highlight other nearby sites, and show what visitors will discover at these locations. We think that lots of people pass through downtown and do not really know what is nearby!
- New Park Space Including an Area for an Annual Dog Show
Let’s be a dog show city! People like dogs!!
Think this is a joke? Think again and check out Woofstock.
- Living Walls and More Flowers Everywhere!
We know that the Parks Department does a wonderful job growing plants and flowers in the greenhouse at Pinafore Park, and planting flowers around the community. Would it be possible to consider the introduction of living walls downtown? Try a quick Google search of ‘Living Walls’ to get a sense of how beautiful these installations can be. More flowers downtown!
- Boutique Hotel + Park
This is a tried-and-true formula for downtown development. Visitors need places to stay. Visitors also want to stay in an attractive setting. Hotel + Park = Visitors to Downtown St. Thomas. In order to make this happen, the City would have to work collaboratively with a local developer. What are the challenges involved in making this happen? What are the solutions?
We sure hope this list is helpful to local organizations like the Downtown Development Board. As it turns out, young people in St. Thomas have some great ideas!
Top Ten List Developed By Alex Popen, Maddie King and Jenn Klassen with Andrew Gunn