I recently came across a photo of several volunteers assembling a temporary street hockey rink in downtown Gananoque. My first thought was what a fantastic idea to bring families downtown to have some good, clean fun. I should’ve followed up with a friend that lives there, to see why they did it and whether it was part of an event. I imagine that a full day or even a weekend of street hockey could be quite the fun event for families and young people. It could also potentially be a relatively low cost event and a great way to draw people downtown.
This got me thinking about North Grenville and specifically Old Town Kemptville. I posted the photo on Facebook asking if people thought it would be great to do something like that on Prescott Street. I got mostly very positive reactions, but there was also scepticism about how difficult it would be to be able to do it because of the amount of time it takes and the red tape involved in closing a street. Not only are certain conditions, approvals and permits required with the municipality for a street closure, but also with the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville as well. Depending on who you talk to, this process takes several months, forcing event organizers into long range planning when they may not have the funding or required information available to start the approval process.
Over the past few years, events like the Dandelion Festival that have been held in Old Town Kemptville have had many hoops to jump through in order to close streets. There’s no doubt that closing streets for events adds significantly to those events. It allows the events to expand and be more accessible to visitors by allowing people to walk around freely and browse the attractions and local businesses at their own pace. This is especially appealing to families who can allow their children to roam without worrying about them around vehicle traffic. The longer that people spend at events like this, the more money they’ll spend at those local businesses too.
To cut down on the red tape, how about declaring a certain area in Old Town Kemptville like Prescott Street and Reuben Crescent to be a ‘Festival Zone’ and streamline the process for getting the necessary approvals and permits for that area? Instead of needing four months to plan for closing a street, it would only take four weeks because the area was already designated for that purpose. For example, if the Lions Club decided to host a street hockey event in the ‘Festival Zone’, it would be quicker and easier for them to do it. This would encourage other organizations to host events in Old Town too. Who knows how many times a group wanted to host a great event in Old Town Kemptville and decided not to because of the long and daunting task required to close a street? This might also encourage someone to step forward to revive the Dandelion Festival or create a new event to replace it.
Sometimes economic development is not just about attracting businesses or deciding which businesses would be most successful in a certain area. Sometimes it’s about finding ways to bring residents to that area to in order to support the businesses that already exist there. After all, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, 80% of job creation in rural areas comes from the expansion of existing small businesses. Making Old Town Kemptville a widely recognized social centre through community events could go a long way towards supporting those local businesses. It’s also a lot easier to attract new businesses and fill available commercial spaces when the existing businesses are healthy and vibrant with plenty of foot traffic.
What do you think?