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Downtown Association to meet with city about closing Queen St on summer nights

'If they don't want to open... eventually those stores will fail and somebody who wants that opportunity will fill the store' - Rory Ring
File photo David Helwig/SooToday

The Downtown Association will ask for a meeting with city planning officials and Ward 3 councillor Matthew Shoemaker about a proposal to close Queen St. on summer weekend evenings.

As SooToday has previously reported, City Council approved a Shoemaker-authored resolution on June 26, directing staff to "examine the possibility of closing Queen St. from East St. to Gore St. to traffic on Friday and/or Saturday nights from Victoria Day to Labour Day each year in an effort to both encourage active use of the downtown space and to increase events downtown."

A poll of Downtown Association members two weeks ago found that most liked the idea.

But at a meeting on Tuesday night, the association's board expressed concern that the number of closures should be scaled back and the resolution's geographic scope ought to be increased.

Kristi Cistaro liked the street-closure idea.

"By broad strokes, I take this as  a very positive direction," Cistaro said, serving notice that she intends to push hard to ensure the section of Queen St. from East to Pim is also be included in the fun.

"I will be happily kicking up the biggest stink," Cistaro said.

Joe Bisceglia wanted to know who will organize and pay for the evening events,

"Who is going to be be responsible for creating the events and funding the events, and are you going to have events every weekend?" Bisceglia asked.

"So you don't have a vacant empty street closed, that's the critical question. Unless there's someone who's prepared to undertake the planning, the organizing and funding of special events on an ongoing basis Friday to Sunday, how are you going to close Queen Street?"

"I think that you have to figure out a way to promote those events before you close the street," Bisceglia said.

"Or at least have some plan of action as to how you're going to occupy Queen St. after you shut it down. Are you going to have portable patios for the food and beverage people? Are you going to have bands? Activities of some kinds: crafts, art shows?"

Downtown Association manager Josh Ingram said the association's members are generally not interested in extending their hours of business.

Most members don't want Queen St. closed all weekend. "Just pick one day," Ingram said.

Grace Tridico suggested a pilot project be tried before deciding on summer-long street closures.

Rory Ring, chief executive officer of the Sault Ste. Mariie Chamber of Commerce, said that if the evening street events are successful, downtown businesses will eventually stay open longer.

"If the people are there with their wallets open, the stores will open," Ring said.

"That's just the way it will work. It's a free market. If they don't want to open, it's not good for us, but eventually those stores will fail and somebody who wants that opportunity will fill the store."