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title about us Americas - Downtown Retail Action Plan, Kitchener

City of Kitchener, Downtown Retail Action Plan, Kitchener, Ontario.

City of Kitchener, Downtown
The City of Kitchener's downtown started to decline some twenty years ago when an enclosed shopping centre was approved at the eastern end of downtown's main shopping street, King Street. This decline was accelerated when a second enclosed shopping centre on King Street was approved at the western end. The remaining destination appeal of King Street was then further eroded by the City's decision to demolish the traditional outdoor Farmer's Market (which was famous for the wagons and horses of the surrounding Mennonite farmers), move it into the parkade of one of the new enclosed shopping centres and ban horses from downtown! These three significant actions resulted in the traditional retail landscape being fractured thus leaving downtown extremely vulnerable to the waves of suburban enclosed shopping centre developments in the 1970s and 1980s and, more recently, the "big box" developments outside the municipality. This was further compounded when the Mennonite farmers decided to hold their own traditional outdoor Farmers' Market outside the municipal boundaries. This steady decline of downtown was accelerated by the lack of heritage architectural controls, by having no clear retail based action plan and finally, as a result of both of these factors, by moving the major employment base of City Hall from the centre of King Street into a new ultra modern designed building at the western end.

Although the steady decline of Downtown Kitchener had been deplored and debated for many years, no significant action was taken until 1995. By that time, the downtown's major hotel had dropped to below 50% occupancy, one of the two major enclosed shopping centres had gone into bankruptcy and one of the three downtown department stores had vanished in a "mysterious" fire leaving only a burnt-out site. When a second department store declared bankruptcy, and left a vacant shell, the owners of the remaining enclosed mall announced that they were not prepared to make any further investment until the City made some significant efforts to “stop the rot” and to revitalise the downtown core generally and King Street specifically. They then listed their property for sale. After the 1995 municipal elections the new Mayor and Council immediately issued a tender call for downtown revitalisation consulting services and, although we were not the lowest bidder, Talbot Consultants International Inc. was selected based on our extensive downtown revitalisation experience elsewhere. Our mandate was to work closely with both the City and the downtown retailers through their Business Improvement Area (BIA) committee. Our tasking involved retaining and supervising a consumer research firm, working closely with the city's traffic engineering department and the heritage committee's architect as well as interviewing a large number of "stakeholders". Our final "Retail Action Plan" was approved three months later by City Council. Council immediately implemented our two key recommendations on parking and traffic. The results were spectacular. King Street retailers reported an immediate sales increase of 15 - 20%. Then, within six months, both shopping centres sold, the hotel sold to Sheraton, the City is now foreclosing (for taxes) or expropriating the burnt-out site so that it can be resold for redevelopment to the private sector and, later, approval was given to move the Farmers Market out of the City Parkade and back to where it was.

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