Saturday, June 6, 2009

A tale of two cities' downtowns...

Both Niagara Falls and St. Catharines are struggling with revitalizing their respective downtowns, each with results you can see now, and more expected in the future. It's a good sign; long-gone are the days when downtowns are left to languish as a sort of ghetto while everyone heads to the suburbs and the malls. There appears to be a renewed interest in saving our downtown cores and revitalizing the areas with new ideas and hopefully, more people visiting and living there. It is a long process, but I think we are starting to see results.

Last evening, for example, I was in downtown St. Catharines for the second Art City evening. This is a new initiative this year to bring art in many forms to many of the business spaces downtown on the first Friday of each month through the fall. The first two James Street Night of Art events, held in late October the last two years, has proven people will embrace a new idea and come downtown if there is something for them to do once they get there. From 6 to 9 pm, visual artists, musicians and others set up shop in many of the shops and cafes downtown to show what they are doing, and you can simply walk from location to location at your leisure to take in as much or as little as you like.

Last evening was a perfect evening for a stroll downtown, and since it is only about a five-minute walk from my house, there really was no excuse not to go this time. I was glad I did, as the variety of art offered to view was interesting to say the least, and everyone seemed to be having a great time. It was a wonderful sight, seeing people strolling downtown in the evening, as we discovered new ideas to peruse at the next location. This is an idea that, while not new, as our first Art City event, believe it or not was way back in 1975, has the potential to grow into something more as we continue to work on bringing culture to the masses downtown. The proposed performing arts centre will only further this concept and allow it to grow even more.

For more information on Art City and what businesses are participating, contact the St. Catharines Downtown Association or log onto their website at You can also get in touch with the St. Catharines & Area Arts Council which is located in the heart of it all in downtown St. Catharines.

Meantime in downtown Niagara Falls, they are turning their Queen Street area into a haven for artists of every description, as old storefronts are converted into art galleries and new restaurants and cafes cater to the crowds who visit. It is an astounding transformation in a very short period of time, and it can only get better. This weekend, the second annual Springilicious food and wine event is taking place on Queen Street, along with three stages set up for entertainment right through Sunday evening. Many food vendors from the area and elsewhere in Niagara Falls are taking part.

Also in downtown Niagara Falls, the old Seneca Theatre on Queen Street has undergone a major renovation and is now home to Gypsy Theatre's summer theatre season, which began earlier this month with Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Cats. I will write more about the theatre once I get a chance to visit sometime this summer but for now, suffice it to say revitalizing the old Seneca was long overdue, and from what I hear, the results have been worth the wait.

So there you go - nothing to do in the evening or on a weekend in Niagara? Where have you been?! There has never been more to do in the area, so get out there and be a tourist in your own backyard!

June 6th, 2009.

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