By Andrew Stokes, Communications Officer
A quick and easy solution to Kingston’s downtown troubles is unlikely, says David Gordon, Director of the School of Urban and Regional Planning.
“Maintaining a healthy downtown in a medium-sized city is an extremely difficult task,” he says. “Most medium-sized cities are really struggling right now.”
Dr. Gordon’s comments follow a report delivered in May to the Downtown Kingston Management Board that outlined some of the major challenges facing Kingston’s downtown sector. The list included empty storefronts, vacant land and future economic uncertainty.
Unlike large cities such as Toronto and Montreal, which typically have strong downtowns, and small cities that are often looking to attract big box retail stores, Kingston stands somewhere in the middle, Dr. Gordon says. He argues that it is difficult for a city like Kingston to maintain commerce happening downtown when big box stores, cinemas and schools exist on the city’s edges.
Compared to other cities its size, though, Kingston is faring well, Dr. Gordon says. He cites the renovation of the Grand Theatre, the K-Rock Centre and Springer Market Square as positive developments.“With Kingston, the glass is half full, but it requires a lot of hard work to keep downtown strong,” he says. Queen’s plays an important role in fostering a vibrant downtown, Dr. Gordon says.
“Many students, staff and faculty live and shop in downtown neighborhoods, and there are excellent opportunities for co-operation between Queen’s and the city. That the two are working together on the Campus Master Plan is a major step forward.”
Confederation Place Hotel, which had high vacancy for much of the winter months, has since been partially used for graduate student housing space. “That was a brilliant idea,” says Dr. Gordon. “The part hotel, part student residence is a great example of town-gown co-operation.”
Despite setbacks like continued construction, Dr. Gordon believes downtown can bounce back. He says projects like the conversion of the Masonic Lodge at Johnson and Wellington into a daycare and the creation of affordable housing in the new Anna Lane complex are first steps towards downtown revitalization.
“There’s reason to feel optimistic,” he says, “I’m hopeful.”