Special districts will make for a 'cool experience' in Windsor

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Windsor Star/Craig Pearson


Windsor may soon turn more cosmopolitan, with the likes of a distillery district, a historical village or a Chinatown.

City council on Monday approved $250,000 for “districting — themes and identity” as part of its enhanced capital budget. Councillors also voted to provide $850,000 for a roundabout and sign for Olde Sandwich Towne, and $1 million for banners and improved lighting on Wyandotte Street East to highlight a new vision called Windsor’s World Marketplace, spanning Wards 3 and 4.

It’s all part of an effort to jazz up certain districts, similar to what is done in large cities like Toronto’s Chinatown or Little Italy.

“It would make it a cool experience in the city to identify the different districts and provide theming that would make it more enjoyable for people,” Mayor Drew Dilkens said Wednesday. “The idea is to promote areas better within the city and outside of the city. If we can stitch all these places together, we can help support BIAs and development.”

Dilkens said the idea comes from council’s 20-year strategic plan, approved unanimously by council. Monday’s budget finally set it in motion.

The concept: style it and they will come.

But Dilkens said council can’t do it alone. Citizens and entrepreneurs must join in, the way they did in Old Walkerville, which in recent years transformed into a hip restaurant-and-shop district, because of the efforts of several creative business people who capitalized on the area’s turn-of-the-century charm.

Though he’s only tossing around ideas at this point, Dilkens wonders if part of Old Walkerville could pay homage to its roots with distiller Hiram Walker by being rebranded the Distillery District — like the popular one in Toronto. He also thinks a Chinatown or Asian Village could form on Wyandotte Street West or University Avenue — as long as neighbours and area merchants embrace the idea.

Plus there are places such as Ford City, Wyandotte, Riverside and elsewhere that he figures could shine brighter with the right theme.

“Sandwich Towne in my mind is just waiting to blossom,” Dilkens said. “If we can create a destination to make that happen, it will also help with beautification.”

Ward 2 Coun. John Elliott welcomes the districting idea — and hopes it helps the west end gain some overdue respect.

“For some people, Olde Sandwich Towne is just a name,” Elliott said. “But it would be worthwhile to help people understand this is the oldest community here. Olde Sandwich Towne was here before Windsor.”

Elliott wants to highlight the historic nature of the area that includes Mackenzie Hall and the Duff-Baby House, not to mention popular hangouts such as Rock Bottom, Hurricanes and the old standby, Dominion House.

“The west end is not a charity case,” Elliott said. “We’re doing well. So I would like to promote the historical nature of Sandwich and make it a destination.”

Elliott said council has already approved the idea of erecting an archway over Sandwich Street — something he hopes will happen by next year. He thinks adding a roundabout and sign welcoming people to Olde Sandwich Towne will be the splash that’s needed.

“The roundabout and sign and archway will give an over-the-top welcome to the area,” he said.

The biggest financial commitment toward promoting a new district theme from Monday’s budget was the $1 million for the Wyandotte Town Centre. The money will partly fund Phase 1 of its new initiative, promoting the rich ethnic diversity of Wyandotte Street East as Windsor’s World Marketplace.

The funds will pay for vibrantly coloured banners and streamers that will properly brand the district, as well as improved lighting to provide a unifying accent.

“It will help a great deal,” said Tamara Kowalska, chair of the Wyandotte Town Centre Business Improvement Association. “Environment is very important. So we want to make sure we’re creating an environment that is inviting, that accurately represents what’s going on in the neighbourhood and encourages participation.

“We’re trying to promote community-mindedness.”