The City of Kitchener and the downtown Kitchener Business Improvement Association (BIA) have been collecting information to develop a strategy for shaping the evolution of the downtown from now until 2020.
It’s an understatement to say we’ve experienced massive change to the core, and there’s more — and good stuff — on the way.
Gathering that information has been done through web surveys, a public forum of about 200 people, as well as 10 discussion round tables with community stakeholders. The collaborative effort is seeking feedback on how the downtown should be shaped and the values and qualities that are important to residents and businesses.
Four surveys, for instance, have generated responses from about 1,200 respondents, and the city is currently crunching the data in roughly 3,000 individual comments (and counting).
Preliminary findings and analysis will be released to the public sometime in March for further public consultation, according to Eric Rumble, the city’s downtown marketing and program coordinator.
That document will end up informing an action plan for the BIA’s and the city’s downtown development priorities in the next few years.
“We targeted specific groups and drilled down a bit deeper to see if we could discover what was common in their experiences,” says Rumble. “There’s a lot of anecdotal material that we’re analyzing for patterns, recurring themes and areas that need to be addressed.”
Rumble cites the fact that one of the most important sources of information is determining how people use the downtown currently, including nightlife, festivals, cafes, bars and restaurants for lunch and dinner.
Having observed a round table of downtown restaurateurs, it is clear to me that co-operation for restaurant businesses seems to be the name of the game in the core.
Restaurants are first among equals when it comes to business. A strong, cohesive group of diverse and engaged restaurants is the prime driver in a robust and healthy downtown. That’s just the way it is: virtually everyone visits a restaurant or coffee shop.
This, of course, is neither the BIA’s nor the city’s position — they are responsible for all elements of downtown businesses, development and infrastructure.
However, I was struck by the sense of unity expressed by the dozen or so participants at the round table, held earlier this month. Perhaps different than even only seven years ago, I’ve found that restaurants — in a fiercely competitive landscape — have become good collaborators and support each other.
And in downtown Kitchener, there is a good variety of food operators each with their market niche.
As businesses — say Bread Heads in the Duke Food Block (DFB) and The Berlin on King Street — they recognize their distinct demographics and appeal. The variety and differences are important to a healthy food and beverage economy and are important pieces of the larger puzzle.
It also struck me that there are definable “micro-demographic” business sectors: for instance, a business like Café Pyrus — unique in the one sense of its vegan food — relies in part on business traffic from the neighbourhoods in and around Victoria Park, while Bread Heads or Exclamation in the DFB does not to the same degree.
As well, those businesses are slightly different than the restaurants — and unique greengrocer Legacy Greens, for example — at the corner of King and Queen.
They, in turn, are again different from the food businesses near the Kitchener Market and those in the west end Innovation District, a rapidly growing sector with a few new restaurants, coffee shops, a brewery and urban residences.
More than ever before, it is important to recognize these smaller micro-demographics that are growing east and west as a well as north and south in the core.
Now, just add to all of that the international flavours that make us a unique food destination: Ethiopian, Turkish, Vietnamese, Lebanese, Indian, Portuguese, Caribbean, Italian, and Salvadoran restaurants.
They too represent important pieces of that food and beverage puzzle that will help define the downtown for many years to come.