Sunday, April 26, 2015

Wasn't that a party in downtown St. Catharines this weekend?

I'm just back from a party at Gord's Place on James Street, home to the Big Reveal Party for the Garden City Food Co-Op, and up the street from the epicenter of the In The Soil Arts Festival this weekend.

To say downtown St. Catharines was abuzz with activity this weekend would be understating the case considerably, and I for one am happy with the excitement generated in our city core.

First, let's talk about In the Soil, now into its 7th season bringing art, music and people together in our downtown core on the last weekend of April.  In The Soil this year packed about 150 acts, exhibits and interactive activities into just a couple of city blocks and for the most part, I think things went particularly well.

I visited a few times on Saturday afternoon after I finished work, visiting along James Street the various exhibits and interactive displays, along with the musical entertainment.  I also took advantage of the offer extended by the performing arts group Fixd Point, who were on site in a tiny little trailer recording people's memories and impressions of St. Paul Street for an upcoming opening week event at the First Ontario Performing Arts Centre event in the fall.

Afterwards I visited my artistic neighbour Sandy Middleton's project in the upper level of the Oddfellows Hall on James Street, co-produced with photographer Erin Riley.  It was a paint-by-numbers effort everyone could take part in and seemed to be going very well when I visited late afternoon.

Much more was planned for the Festival today, but things were winding down when I again stopped downtown for the Garden City Food Co-Op Big Reveal Party at Gord's Place.  This has been in the works for some time and has been highly anticipated, as everyone connected to the project was anxious to hear where the new co-operative market would be located in downtown St. Catharines.

It was nice to see the joint jumping when we arrived, with barely a seat available shortly after the doors opened at 7 pm.  Things were noisy and festive, but everyone's attention pointed to the front of the restaurant as it was announced the location for the Garden City Food Co-Op would be...ta-da!  57 Carlisle, right across from the bus terminal.

It might be surprising to some that will in fact be the location, but when you think about it, it makes perfect sense.  It is centrally situated in our downtown, the building already exists, and it is very close to public transit for those who have no vehicle of their own in order to get around.  After all, that was often the big complaint once the old A&P closed in the Midtown Plaza on Welland Avenue:  seniors and those with no car would have a difficult time leaving the downtown area for the shopping malls and grocery stores outside the core.

Landlord Nick Atalick knew what he was doing when negotiations with the co-op folks got serious.  He knew the area around the First Ontario Performing Arts Centre would be in demand, and what better business to have on one of his area properties than a co-operative owned and operated by the citizens of St. Catharines?  Much better than yet another bar, you have to agree.

So the preliminary drawings look promising and the building size seems sufficient, so now the push is on to gather even more members to support the cause.  As of this writing membership sits at over 400, up considerably from the 300-member threshold that was deemed necessary to get this thing off the ground in the first place.  

Hopefully now with a location made public and an expected completion date of late 2015 or early 2016, the membership can expand even more in the coming months.

There is still much work to do on this project but it will happen.  And it will be successful, if what I saw at Gord's tonight is any indication.  There is genuine excitement for the co-op concept, and bringing it to downtown St. Catharines furthers the objective of creating a wider appeal and more family-friendly vibe in our city centre.

Can a new civic square be far behind?  Well, the jury is still out on that one, but considering the accomplishments in our downtown the last few years, I would not be the least bit surprised if it does happen sometime in the near future.

Exciting things are happening downtown...are you going to be a part of it?

Have a great week!

April 26th, 2015.

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