Bold vision for King St. in Chatham

Jul 9 • Business, Feature Story7 Comments on Bold vision for King St. in Chatham

Downtown Chatham, looking east along King Street. Downtown Chatham Centre manager Regina Stockus envisions a portion of the downtown being converted into an outdoor pedestrian mall.

Proposal would convert section into outdoor pedestrian mall

By Bruce Corcoran

The manager of the Downtown Chatham Centre (DCC) is thinking outside of the box when it comes to Chatham’s core, and she hopes others walk up to the idea.

Regina Stockus would like to see the section of King Street that runs between Fifth and William Streets be converted into a pedestrian mall. 

She knows blocking automotive traffic from the mall to the Chilled Cork would be a huge change.

“I figured we have to be bold. Never mind dancing around the pool. We have to jump in,” Stockus said. “My job is to get people into the mall. Tenants want (foot) traffic. The more traffic, the more tenants. It is a chicken and egg thing.”

To that effect, Stockus said the need is to attract the foot traffic. In her mind, what worked 40 years ago is no longer effective today.

“The old formula is no longer working. Malls have to change the concept,” she said. “When the concept started years ago, it was more about dealing with Canadian winters. But the box stores have opened up and sucked business out of the downtowns. As mall managers, we have the stores, have the parking, have heated conditions, but that’s no longer enough.”

Stockus said in her travels through Europe, she saw the appeal of large outdoor pedestrian-only areas.

“Last May, when I was in Europe, I was sitting at the piazza in Rome drinking wine and people were walking around enjoying the outdoors. It was the same in Munich,” she said.

What a pedestrian mall might look like in Chatham.

Stockus thought, why not Chatham?

Mayor Darrin Canniff has seen the idea. He’s not yet sold on it, however.

“It’s one of many ideas for the downtown. It’s another idea to consider and it would be a very expensive thing to consider too. Certainly , as we move forward, there will be a lot of things going on,” he said. “And there has to be something happen at the mall. It’s pretty much empty and we have to find some way to fill it.”

Stockus said she’s worked on increasing traffic inside the mall, with line dancing, mall walking, a reading room, etc., and numbers were improving.

Then COVID-19 hit the globe. 

“Restaurants can open outside only. This concept would be a walking street with lots of flowers everywhere, and restaurants with patios, buskers performing and more,” she said.

She envisions the area being filled with boutique-style shops, with some offering pastries, unique breads, cheese, and more.

She encourages the municipality to embrace the concept and seek to tap into stimulus funding from senior levels of government.

Canniff said Chatham’s downtown needs more people working, and living, there.

“The key to a revitalized downtown is to have people living down there and working down there. Once you have those two, it will start attracting other businesses,” he said.

Enter Boardwalk on the Thames, the apartment project that began in 2010 with Everlast Group.

“The condo, when it comes online later this year, that will be the next point of revitalization of the downtown,” Canniff said. “There are 88 units. When they fill up, there will be 150 to 200 people living downtown. That will start driving the economics down there.”
Canniff also pointed to Everlast’s plans for the former YMCA at the other end of King Street in the downtown. When completed, that could house as many as 150 foreign students.

“You start putting people down there and it starts creating more traffic, and so on,” he said.

The mall manager said she’s sent her information and ideas to every member of municipal council, as well as local MPP Rick Nicholls, MP David Epp, and so far she has not heard anything in response.

“I know they are busy with other issues, but the community is suffering. The downtown is suffering. Stores are closing. Is it the coronavirus or is it not thinking outside the box?” Stockus asked.

She knows there are opponents to her concept.

“I expect to have some negative comments, but everyone I talked to agreed something has to be done. We have to be proactive,” she said.

Parking is one area that should not be an issue, as there is limited parking along that section of King Street, Stockus said, and the DCC has more than 1,000 parking spots on its footprint. Furthermore, the lot on Fourth Street at the intersection of Wellington Street is often underutilized, she said.

She hopes to speak with an engineering group in the near future to develop a formal proposal to take before elected officials.

“We want to revitalize the downtown and make it dynamic; make it a community place for people to gather and to have fun. Chatham is such a beautiful place with so many historic buildings. It just needs some rejuvenation,” Stockus said.

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7 Responses to Bold vision for King St. in Chatham

  1. That is a different thought for sure! But what about the winter time. Winter is a long season, would the set up be wasted over the ‘cold’ season?? That would be a lot of money if wasted during the cold season. Also how would they handle the homeless ‘hanging out’? Extra security?

  2. Barb Lovell says:

    First, we need more businesses for the people to go to downtown to. Unlike most cities moving in this direction, we need to attract business & families to live here first. With so many businesses & layoffs from the pandemic, we have lost many.
    Second, why not stick with what works? Remember when boats toured from all over to visit & stay in Chatham? People would come from all over to see the boats & walk the boulevard? Drudge the river and encourage what has worked in the past, without the cost of huge infrastructure that may or may not work.
    Stop relying on local money. Focus on tourism. Attract what we want. Just sayin!

  3. Don Read says:

    Brilliant idea! Many cities in Canada have done this as well. Ottawa, Quebec City etc. I am enjoying the outside venues like new Garden restaurant. We have the river and amazing weather we should utilize them.

  4. Murray says:

    Tare down the mall and turn King Street back to the way it originally was. Open up Six Street and Market Square. Or turn King St into nothing but houses and move all businesses out on St. Claitr St. The damage to downtown is done and will never be the same with that mall there. Most of all to avoid the CPR train tracks make a full roadway from the traffic lights at Harvey & Wellington right through to a “T” intersection at King Street.

  5. Isabella Beattie says:

    This is an excellent idea and long overdue. People will find parking as they did for sidewalk days, retro fest, Christmas parades, etc… We have a beautiful downtown and closing King Street and turning it into a pedestrian mall will attract people and in turn attract business. When I first visited Europe in the 70’s this was common in most cities and small towns. Their downtown centres are always thriving and outdoor eating takes place well into the fall and start up in early spring . Look at the Distillery District in Toronto which is full of people around Christmas.
    However, if we’re going to start partially, I agree that the section that first needs to be closed is from the Jazz Bah to Sonya Roe. Much prettier with more restaurants.

  6. Regina M. Stockus says:

    Hello Everyone. love this beautiful city of Chatham, and I want to do something if possible in my own small way. This PROMENADE IDEA has been around for centuries.
    The reason for pushing this idea NOW is that the Feds, have allocated some funding in Ottawa for such projects as a result of CORONA. good BAD scenario.. We have to get in the race and see if we can get some of that money. The tax payers will not be burdened, that is the whole idea. If we want to do something we must do it now or lose that window of opportunity. We all know the issues, and there is no need to keep re-hashing the same moaning and groaning, which does nothing for making it better. I guess the good thing is that these SAME negative comments have been repeated countless times.Comments are always welcome, but actions count more. Action is what needed not negativity. I see the need and the possibility, so why not try. Let us see if we can form a positive pro active committee and do something together.
    Take care of yourselves, stay well, stay safe. Regina M. Stockus – MANAGER FOR LEASING AND EVENTS FOR DCC. SEND ME IDEAS….We may be able to incorporate them in our GRAND PROPOSAL TO Mr. Bill Morneau – Ottawa.

  7. Rob says:

    Wrong end of King St. to consider. The other end between 3rd and 4th St.s makes more sense due to theater and restaurants. And like a previous poster said it is only a viable idea in fair weather.

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