By PATRICK COUTU
The renaissance of Sarnia’s downtown business area may end up creating a new identity for our city.
The evolution of the core district has taken a distinct turn towards becoming a cultural entertainment area. This seems like a complementary fit. The architecture and natural beauty of the region lend themselves to a partnership with the arts.
The downtown has gone through the familiar transition for most downtown areas in North America.
With any kind of rejuvenation, extreme individual effort is part of the equation.
There are a multitude of small triumphs the should get recognition, but in the interest of keeping this simple, here is how the familiar story goes: Once the hub of activity for an entire city, the core eventually has businesses and residents pulled away by developing suburbs.
This migration has the effect of making property values in the core bottom out. Affordable property becomes attractive to the artsy bohemian types. These creative people help to establish a trendy hip environment. At this point politicians and business people take notice and begin to re-invest, raising property values and creating positive momentum. This is the stage we seem to be at in Sarnia.
Sarnia’s downtown has so much to offer: conveniently located professional services, beautiful parks, historic churches, public transit and plenty of parking.
Unique restaurants, cafes and even a micro roaster serve up fare you can only find in this area.
Pubs and bars pulse with the sound of local musicians plying their trade.
These types of businesses are complementary to other attractions such as live theatre, art galleries and museums.
Shopping for furniture, housewares, antiques and the latest fashions can provide entertainment on its own.
Trendy salons and spas take advantage of unique spaces to give you that urban feel. All of this is the tip of the iceberg as a full compliment of specialty shops await to the delight of shoppers.
What is driving the prosperity and expansion of the business district is the growing population of downtown residents.
Downtown has always been a popular residential area, but the density is increasing.
Renovated loft apartments have waiting lists for tenants. New high-rise apartment and condo buildings are filling up.
These residents choose this area because of the services and energy from the neighborhood.
The cherry to top off this renaissance story will be the new Judith and Norman Alix Art Gallery, slated to open in the spring of 2012.
This "state of the art" gallery will display works that will attract visitors from far and wide.
Tourists will be able to enjoy our waterfront and thriving downtown core.
Would it not be apropos that our new identity, forged out of this blue-collar town, will be that of a metropolitan, urban playground?
We may as well get used to the term: Sarnia’s Downtown Cultural District. That is how visitors will come to remember us.
Patrick Coutu, one of the pioneers of downtown redevelopment, is also a licensed Realtor. He can be reached at [email protected]