Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Market, Empty Space and Pedestrian Friendly

A few blogs ago I discussed the need for an urban core to become pedestrian friendly. I know this is now one of the buzz words being used in any dialogue for a city to redevelop its downtown core. If there is a place that both has the opportunity and the need it is downtown Brantford. What is needed is for something that makes people to want to be downtown, to establish the critical mass of people that allows the development of further space and place for people to gather.

Much is being made for the plan to tear down all the buildings along south side Colborne and build more university buildings and a Y. Apparently partnerships are being discussed to make that happen. Brantford is attempting to transform its downtown into a university campus which will bring the population of the core up and with that further retail entering the place.

One of the challenges facing the downtown has to be Market Square. Here a massive structure of commercial and retail stands for the most part empty. There are only a handful of businesses within it. If it wasn't for the City of Brantford, and a church it would be very empty.

From personal experience I recall going to the Square and watching a bat fly around the ceiling. Yes a bat. Nothing says desolation like a bat flying inside a building. The good news is there were no mosquitoes within the building. Still it speaks volumes of the state of the structure. I was reading the fascinating blog The Brantford Blog. He's a self-proclaimed grouchy old man. He had a blog entitled Cursed, that examines a bit of the history and problems of Market Square. Some do speak of the curse, others suggest the curse has more to do with the collapse of both Eaton's and the economic foundation of Brantford. It apparently was a fairly busy place with a number of very good shops that catered to the downtown business community. However now its stands an empty shell. How bad is it? When Freedom House Church moved in, it was greeted with cheers from the local newspaper. In fact the Expositor made the move a part of its editorial, it cheered the move as part of the revitalization of the downtown.

One result of all this empty space has to be the depressing of commercial value in the downtown, I did a little research and discovered rent in Market Square is about 10-12 dollars a square foot. Likely as long as Market Square stands empty that will be the reality. On one hand, this should inspire people to move business in, on the other hand, it stifles development- if you're not going to make any money on it, why bother?

If there is one question that comes to mind is why hasn't the University used this structure; they've been busy buying up all sorts of empty building to expand, when they are not building there own, and yet they keep away from the Square. While William's exist as part of the place to hang out if you're a student, there is not much else. Even when there is retail development, it is heading south of Iconn Street, in the Price Chopper Plaza.

I suppose if there is any scepticism towards the development of south side Colborne it has to do with the fact this City has gone down that road of new structures only to end up having very large white elephants that add nothing to the downtown but empty space and homes for bats.

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