Sudbury·Audio

Sault Ste. Marie sees sprucing up downtown as key to joining the 'new economy'

City planners across northern Ontario are imagining what the downtown of the future will look like and Sault Ste. Marie is the latest to try to draw up a blueprint for the business core.

Sudbury passed its own downtown master plan nearly five years ago

Sault Ste. Marie city planner Steve Turco. (Erik White/CBC)
What will the downtowns of Northern Ontario cities look like in the future? City planners in Sudbury laid out their blueprint a few years ago. Sault Ste. Marie is also trying to turn around its downtown. We heard more from the CBC's Erik White. 7:44
City planners across northern Ontario are imagining what the downtown of the future will look like and Sault Ste. Marie is the latest to try to draw up a blueprint for the business core.

City council in the Sault will vote Monday night on a new downtown strategy that aims to reinvent the business district as a neighbourhood.

Project coordinator Tori Prouse says the goal is that wider sidewalks, more bike paths and making the downtown look prettier, will attract more people to live in the core, along with businesses to serve them.

Prouse says cities like the Sault have to move into a post-industrial world where instead of trying to bring large plants with hundreds of workers to town, they need to target people who can do their job whether they live.

"What the new economy is turning towards is people being attracted to places and moving to places that make them feel good," she says.

'When people see people it attracts more and more people'

An example of what the downtown plan envisions is already happening on Gore Street, which is going through a $4.3 million makeover.

The hope is that making the street prettier with public dollars will attract private money and help it turn around its down and out reputation and restore what was once a busy shopping street.

"The city is taking a leadership role in this investment and we're not going to ask you to invest unless we invest ourselves, which is pretty critical," says Prouse.

Senior planner Steve Turco says one of the key things they did on Gore Street is widen the sidewalks, allowing for restaurants and other businesses to "spill out" into the public space.

"That's what really creates the vibrancy. When people see people it attracts more and more people," he says.

Gore Street in downtown Sault Ste. Marie is in the midst of a $4 million dollar makeover.

Susan Thompson is the managing director of the Downtown Village Development Corporation in Sudbury (Hilary Duff/CBC)

Greater Sudbury went through a similar process, with a series of public meetings culminating in the downtown master plan completed in 2012.

At the time, many were concerned that the plan would just gather dust in a drawer at city hall.

And Susan Thompson, managing director of the Downtown Village Development Corporation says while many are working hard to make it a reality, most of the projects are still on the drawing board.

"I think the process though that is required with council and staff, unfortunately, takes time. And people get frustrated," she says.

Thompson was initially focused no developing the idea of an Innotech Park, which would have transformed vacant land downtown into a office complex, but it didn't go anywhere.

She and her corporation are now promoting the idea of a mixed-use development, especially multi-storey buildings that combine retail, parking garage and rooftop condominiums.

Thompson is also hopeful that after years of debate, the city will move forward on offering tax rebates to developers to build housing units downtown. That will be discussed at tonight's planning committee meeting.

The city's web site points out that it has moved forward on planning for some of the projects in the master plan, including the Tom Davies Square courtyard, the Green Stairs leading to Memorial Park and the Elgin Greenway. 

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