ESTEVAN - Estevan’s downtown is entering a revitalization phase, which starts with broad research on what people enjoy and what is lacking in the city centre.
The City of Estevan, along with George Harris Collaborative, started off with online and offline surveys, asking residents to share their experience with downtown the way it is. This stage of research also included an open house, hosted Tuesday and Wednesday at the Days Inn.
Several dozen people, including a good mixture of business owners and private individuals, used this opportunity to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of Estevan's downtown the way it is now.
"There was a pretty good turnout right at the start of the night," said Estevan city manager Jeff Ward. "There have been about 30 to 50 people that have shown up, and their feedback is very visual."
All residents that came out for the open house were allowed to express their opinions and experiences through answering questions on posters placed around the Taylorton Room, with the help of sticky dots, which allowed the research team to see some trends right off the start.
George Harris with George Harris Collaborative explained that to find the best way for local downtown development, they are going through a three-phase process. The first phase is called Locals Know.
"We're asking locals, the council, the public and the businesses, about what makes downtown special, what are the challenges that they see in the downtown and so on. At the same time in this Locals Know, we are consulting teams made up of architects, engineers, landscape architects, urban designers, and are studying the place, doing an analysis, looking at things like wind and sun, circulation, building condition, and that sort of thing," Harris explained.
While the open house wasn't the only research done at this stage, some trends and findings stood out even through it alone. Most of those trends or concerns were voiced by the city council in the initial communication with Harris, as they had a pretty good understanding of how people feel about Estevan's downtown area.
"People want to see more development downtown. They want more trees … and they want places to sit and places to walk and that sort of thing. We expected that. And there's a lacking of certain types of businesses, people would like to see cafes and a butcher and things like that," Harris shared.
Not only could respondents voice their opinions by placing dots on the graphs or maps, but they also could word their vision, opinions or suggestions on stickers. Thus, people were asked if downtown had too many, too few or just enough of things like trees, places to sit, parks, nice buildings, etc. They also were asked how they felt about how downtown is now, and the absolute majority of people participating said the downtown is very well maintained.
Respondents were asked if they felt safe/unsafe in different areas of Estevan’s core. Fourth Street was marked as the safest place, which, as Harris explained, usually has to do with the number of people present, as we feel safer where there is more activity.
"This is where more activity is right now," said Harris pointing at a few blocks of Fourth Street from 13th to Souris Avenue. "Active places are safe places."
People were also asked how safe they feel crossing streets, walking at night, walking back lanes and walking alone around downtown, as well as how empty or congested downtown feels, which will help with future development plans.
Other questions were about parking habits downtown. While some people pointed out that parking is sometimes an issue downtown, other answers suggested that residents tend to park on the street as close as possible to their destinations and usually do one or two stops, which means their visits downtown are goal-oriented and rather short.
"(Ideally) we would want people to be regularly doing the five or more stops, spend time there," Harris said.
People were also asked what would keep them downtown longer, and some of the trends included more shopping opportunities and mainly more events. Harris pointed out that programming for parks or businesses is a big thing when it comes to attracting traffic.
Other questions were about how residents feel about downtown, if it’s sunny or shady, open or confined, calm or noisy, windy, etc.
"We have heard this wind is an issue down there. This openness, people are sensing this openness, which is true, this is the proportion of street, it's very wide even for a Prairie town," Harris noted.
Respondents were also asked what were some of the main attractions downtown, and those who were at the open house pointed out that their most visited places were the Orpheum Theatre and Tower Café, which Harris named the two main "business anchors" of Estevan downtown. He also pointed out that this data shows where the investment usually goes firsthand, as the space between the anchors is the most attended and best quality in sense of business buildings.
Some other questions were aimed at starting people to think about how they want to see the core – the next stage of the downtown revitalization project.
Besides hosting an open house, the city had an online survey and handed out some printed questionnaires, which residents could drop off at city hall and the leisure centre. The information collected through the various surveys will be entered and analyzed before George Harris Collaborative proceeds to the next stage of the project.
"They will assess all the feedback. They did do an initial assessment with the city council to get some initial feedback. We're now going through this feedback process. They will gather all this together, see what the trends look like, and then come up with some ideas to do a follow-up session in January," Ward pointed out. "This is the first step in a process. As we get public feedback to start building out the design and focusing on what the community is looking for and what they need in their downtown core."
After phase one is completed, George Harris Collaborative is going to take that information to the second phase, called What You Want.
"In that phase, we're going to present the findings of the first phase. We're going to meet the public and businesses in a workshop setting. So we are going to be sitting at tables and drawing and talking in table groups. Our consultant team is going to present precedents from all over Canada and all over the world of how downtowns are being revitalized," explained Harris.
"Each of the tables will present their ideas, and our consulting team will take those ideas and turn that into a design. We'll take the best, take what's realistic, we'll figure out what's the best solution. And in the third phase, we'll create a design and present it back to the public and businesses to be critiqued."
All three phases are planned to be completed by the end of March 2022.
"We're going to be going back to the public in January for the second phase of What They Want. And then in the middle of March we'll present the concept to the public," Harris said.
As part of the project, George Harris Collaborative is building a digital 3D model of the Estevan downtown, to better explain how they see the best development for the area.