Horwitz sees new life downtown in 2014

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Windsor Star/Craig Pearson

Larry Horwitz — property owner, entrepreneur, and political man about town — sees good things for the city core in 2014.

Elected a week ago to his third straight term and fifth overall as chairman of the Downtown Windsor Business Improvement Association, Horwitz thinks several factors make the future bright for the city core: the new aquatic centre, the expanding presence of the University of Windsor and St. Clair College, and a number of new businesses.

“People are starting to believe in downtown again,” he said Tuesday. “So 2014 will be a continual upward progression, we hope.

“The turning point has already started. There’s anticipation. There’s excitement for what the future holds.”

Horwitz said a pet store and four new restaurants have opened in the last couple of months.

But he knows that other operations have closed, and that Windsor, which endured a manufacturing meltdown and recession, was particularly hard hit. Though he did not know the downtown vacancy rate, he acknowledges that it’s too high — and that businesses lean too much toward the party scene.

“The big fight for the coming year is retail recruitment,” Horwitz said. “We want to fill up the spaces downtown.”

Horwitz said recent initiatives have already helped increase traffic, such as free WiFi throughout the city core, and efforts to make the area safer at night, thanks to more police officers patrolling when the streets are rowdiest.

Another issue he plans to tackle: casino funding. The DWBIA operates on less than $700,000 a year, thanks to funding from its roughly 500 members. Caesars Windsor was paying the DWBIA about $315,000 a year, which Horwitz said represented a lower rate than for most businesses.

Then a provincial funding formula upped the gaming hall’s annual contribution to the city, but cut its payment to the DWBIA.

“We feel that wasn’t fair and equitable,” said Horwitz, noting that businesses which compete with the casino have to chip in to the DWBIA. “We feel we were dealt a bad hand.”

Mayor Eddie Francis has said the city will not kick in any long-term DWBIA funding. Horwitz said he understands the mayor’s position, given that the casino is an Ontario issue. So Horwitz plans to increase his discussions with provincial politicians, hoping they will agree that helping the DWBIA boosts the city core.

The city can’t thrive, he feels, without a thriving core.

“It took 15 to 20 years for downtown to fall apart so it’s going to take a few years for it to get back on its feet and become great again,” said Horwitz, who hopes to attract such neighbourhood amenities as grocery, bakery and hardware stores. “But it’s already happening. We’re changing our philosophy of what downtown can be.”