Nova Scotia

Sydney downtown revitalization proposal backed by area councillor

A Sydney municipal councillor who chairs the Cape Breton Regional Municipality's heritage committee is getting behind a draft proposal to revitalize the downtown.

'I think it's key we have more people living in our downtown area,' says Coun. Eldon MacDonald

The National Trust for Canada wants to help revitalize Sydney's downtown. (George Mortimer/CBC)

A Sydney municipal councillor who chairs the Cape Breton Regional Municipality's heritage committee is getting behind a draft proposal to revitalize the downtown.

Eldon MacDonald represents an area that's been rebranded the Sydney Waterfront District. He's enthusiastic about a concept presented to council on Friday by Jim Mountain, a project director with the National Trust for Canada.  

Mountain met with council to discuss a program run by the charity that aims to breath new life into downtown areas across Canada.

"Sydney is the starting point but we do hope and believe it will have benefits for the other communities [in CBRM] that have downtowns," Mountain told CBC Cape Breton's Information Morning.

Mountain and MacDonald agree the first priority is to work with property owners to fill vacant buildings, many of which have a unique character that adds to the flavour of a downtown area.

Sydney Coun. Eldon MacDonald speaks with CBC Cape Breton's Information Morning about revitalizing the area's downtown. (CBC/Hal Higgins)

MacDonald would like to see some of those empty buildings put to use not only as storefronts but also as second-floor apartments.

"I think it's key we have more people living in our downtown area," he said.

MacDonald and Mountain said part of the concept is to hire a full-time director for the revitalization project, someone who would occupy a storefront office in the downtown core.

"You have so many things happening when you have that visible, active, physical presence on the street," said Mountain.

'We have the best and the worst'

The overreaching challenge, according to MacDonald, is to keep beautifying the downtown core to appeal to visitors who arrive by road, plane or cruise ship.

MacDonald said the message is loud and clear, especially from cruise ship companies: "Fix your downtown. Visitors need to see a vibrant, beautiful downtown they say."

The point is driven home even further, he said, by the cruise industry's overall assessment of Sydney. It rates passenger excursions as the best in Atlantic Canada, but Sydney at the bottom of the heap for its downtown.

"We have the best and the worst," MacDonald said, adding that the imbalance can be corrected by downtown renewal.

The councillor said a five-year pilot project run in conjunction with the National Trust would cost about $200,000 in its first year, half of which would go towards setting up an office and hiring an executive director.

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