Hey there! Hope you’re all doing well. I’m long overdue for a new set of Diamond and Coal Awards so let’s get right to it.

Diamond Award Winner:

The Market Place at the Kitchener Market

I love new ideas that help to improve the original idea. The Market Place room that the Kitchener Market has created is a great example.

The upper floor of the Market was underutilized. It felt unbalanced. With the food court vendors on one side and a big empty space on the other side. It felt like something was missing.

No more! The addition of The Market Place has breathed new life into the upper floor of the Market by giving people another reason to visit the building outside of Market mornings. Featuring a teaching kitchen, the space is effectively used for a variety of cooking classes. Most are for adults but there are classes and camps for kids too.

The Market Place is an example of the potential the Market building holds for being a vibrant people place. That’s part of the reason that I arranged to use it for two Social Media Breakfasts. We liked the size of the room and its hip urban feel. Response from participants to the space has overall been positive. I understand that as it gets better known that other members of the community have booked it for various events as I have for my business.

Coal Award Winner:

Empty storefronts at 290 & 310 King St. E.

Street level storefronts that are empty and even worse unfinished are doing nothing to help revive the east end of downtown Kitchener. They certainly are not contributing to the success of the overall Market project that includes the Market itself and condominiums along Duke Street. Built and owned by the Barrel Works Market Shops Inc., these spaces are urgently in need of attention and contribute to the negative perceptions about this project’s success.

One of my biggest problems with them is that they are an eyesore to pedestrian and traffic along King. The space at King and Eby that has been “under construction” for years sends a particularly poor message. Let’s start with using the windows of the empty storefronts to help advertise the Market, the food court or downtown Kitchener. I’m not suggesting something that looks like a cheap interim measure. What I’m recommending is some of the window banners that are now available to help turn windows into marketing tools. Even something purely decorative would help send a more positive, upbeat message.

These spaces have been coal award candidates since I before I started this blog so I appreciated getting some background on their status in an October 6, 2010 article in the Waterloo Region Record. Apparently the owners are having trouble renting the space especially since as part of the development agreement their use needs to be food-related.

The matter was before Council at that time because a dentist was considering one of the units. Council decided not to enforce the use for that unit and went so far as to pass a motion to have staff review the restrictions on the building if requested by the property owner. I am unaware if that request has been made but I would be surprised if it hasn’t been.

As much as I’d like to see those spaces come to life, I would like to continue seeing them be required to have a food-related use. I think doing so is critical to the success of the overall Market project. I understand the frustration from trying unsuccessfully for so long to get the desired businesses to locate in the Market but a quote in the story suggests that the restrictions may not be the real problem. Realtor Edmund Pries is quoted as saying, “Whenever we have someone who falls in love with this space…the competing property owners located further down toward this end of King Street tell the potential tenants that it would be unwise for them to locate there, and somewhere else would be better because there is more activity there.”

Is he talking about the same storefronts on King as I am? If so, I find that hard to believe. The Golden Hearth bakery is right across the street from one and Grainharvest is on Eby almost across from the other.  They seem to be satisfied by the level of traffic in the same area. There are several sit down restaurants that are also extremely close. I don’t believe that the level of activity is the real issue. Nor do I believe that food-related businesses are uninterested in the area. So something else must be the issue. I can’t be sure what it is but it seems to me that removing the food use requirement will not by itself change anything.

I believe its important that the Market project be the centerpiece of the east downtown core’s food renaissance. I urge the new Council to resist changing the restrictions until all avenues for realizing the original vision have been exhausted. I don’t believe that we’ve reached that point yet. I hope we’re not ready to give up on Market District concept. Instead, let’s figure out how to make it work–or better yet thrive.

But my objective with this coal award is to make doing something with these spaces a higher priority so that food-related or not they begin contributing to a revival of east downtown Kitchener.

7 thoughts on “My Diamond & Coal Awards – January 2011

  1. When I came back home a few years ago I was interested in seeing the new market after everything I had read about it being designed and built. What a disappointment! It’s hidden behind two basic brick buildings….each look to big to hold small business or too small to hold bigger businesses. The main entrance is hidden behind these two cubes. Even having those 6 or 7 steps to climb are a visual barrier which right away tells customers “obstacles to avoid”. Could you imagine if a shopping mall had steps to climb in front of its doors?
    Now we get to the inside….it looks like a cross between a hockey arena and a factory.
    How hard would it have been for the planners to have one main open floor for all vendors? The entrance could have been set back 5m or so from King Street and gently sloped from the sidewalk. A full length under ground garage could handle the parking. Forget the office element….that’s for the private sector to design/build. Just think of a smaller version of Toronto’s St Lawrence Market with its beautiful facade and arched roof. That is what we should have had. Instead we got a mish mash of ‘stuff’.
    James, no matter how nice one part of the inside may be it’s like saying “on the inside she’s got a great personality” when what we really mean to say is that on the outside she’s a dog. No amount of internal personality will turn this dog into a beauty I’m afraid.

    1. You’re not alone in being disappointed but as Denis points out below, we can’t go back and we need to find a way to work with where we’re at. I’ve deliberately avoided looking back and prefer to celebrate a success and look to the future.

  2. Hi James and thank you for your coal award. I agree with your points. I also feel that dressing up the windows could be very attractive. Several years ago I was involved in just such a project placing art in the downtown empty spaces to give them life – we were the ASAP. Perhaps what we need to do is to have a meeting with D. Glenn-Graham and F. Etherington, councillors for the downtown and include the voice of the market manager, Mark Garner and a representative from the Barrel Works – bring all stakeholders to the table. This may generate some ideas that would be sustainable. The market is what it is. We can’t go back; we need to make it work.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Denis! I’m hoping that many of the players you mention are already talking and that we’ll see more successes as a result. In the meantime, let’s use those windows to send a positive message.

  3. I think with all the food in the market and around the market, keeping the restriction is not necessary if a viable business were interested in moving in. A professional like a dentist would be great. I honestly think it would be a great place for a Starbucks! Don’t hate me for liking their coffee. I might even visit the Market if that happened.

    I think the strangest thing about the market is the small stairways to get up from the parking lot and the awkward entrance to it but I know those issues have been discussed in the past.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Ted. The dentist office got the ok to proceed so I wasn’t addressing it here. I might be persuaded that non-food uses are ok but given the choice, I’d prefer to see businesses that would contribute to a lively street life and preferably attract people to go to this stretch of King. It’d also be nice if what goes in was complementary to what is already available.

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