Narrator: Brantford’s Downtown has been experiencing growth and revitalization—steadily—for over a decade now, establishing itself as one of 25 recognized "urban growth centres" in the Province of Ontario.
Until the 1980’s, Brantford had a prosperous manufacturing base that supported city growth. However, by the mid-1980’s, an economic crisis caused manufacturing to decline for the span of a decade. By the late 1990’s, suburban development had picked back up, but disinvestment in Downtown Brantford had caused the once thriving commercial/retail core to crash.
Through careful planning and strategizing, this began to change in 1999 as a new revitalization model came into effect.
Mayor Chris Friel: "You have got to start with the introduction of the casino because that is where the dollars came to really revitalize the downtown. So the casino—we sold the Icomm building for the dollars to start the university. We used the money from that to renovate our Carnegie Library which was a turnkey operation. We handed it over and said ‘run post-secondary’. We started with 39 students fifteen years ago this past October, and there are now 3,200 students in fifteen years which is quite remarkable."
Narrator: A unique approach to revitalization in the downtown core emerged, labelled "the post-secondary downtown". As post-secondary expansion occurs, the university community connects with downtown on a multitude of different levels.
Kathryn Drury: "In order to open a satellite campus they needed to have a library, and having to build a library is a very costly thing to have to do. So the Brantford Public Library got on board right at the very beginning, and we decided that we could take part and we have provided library service to them since then—so it has grown a lot over the years."
Brian Rosborough: "The partnership between Laurier and the City of Brantford really has set the standard for urban economic revitalization in Ontario. We have been working together with the city since 1999, and we currently have 3,000 students in Brantford, more than 275 staff, and we occupy 20 or more repurposed and new buildings in the downtown core. The Laurier campus in Brantford is fully integrated into the downtown and that means that our students have the advantage of really participating in the community and being a part of what is very an exciting and vibrant downtown."
Narrator: As downtown began to re-emerge as a growing employment environment, businesses began to invest in the core, facilitating further growth.
Scott Lyons: "We have been in a lot of cities over the years and a lot of downtowns, and when it came to the point we wanted to consolidate all of our operations into one city it was unquestionable that that would be Downtown Brantford. The revitalization that has been going on the last few years, with the help of the university and post-secondary education, has been phenomenal, and we just knew it was a great time to be investing in downtown and to bringing more people to the downtown."
Jenna Garbedian: "We chose Downtown Brantford because we were so excited about the changes that had gone on over the last 10 years. It was completely unrecognizable from the last time I had been downtown, and we were so excited about it that we really wanted to be part of the revitalization."
Narrator: The City of Brantford’s ability to leverage assets and build partnerships has facilitated the successful re-emergence of the downtown core.
Through the increased traffic that accompanies the expansion of Wilfrid Laurier University; the partnership between the City and the OLG Casino to generate jobs; and the Downtown Brantford BIA’s support of businesses, cultural events, and the repurposing of heritage buildings; Downtown Brantford has become a truly unique example of how partnerships build a strong, thriving community.
The plans for growth continue from here. With the help of the partnerships that have been made, many plans are already in action to help rejuvenate the rapidly growing downtown core into being something better than it ever was.
Geoff Rae: "Well the City of Brantford has developed master plans for water, wastewater and storm water that provides an assessment of what growth is going to look like in the future in terms of these collection and distribution systems. The master plans are correlated with the official plan and downtown intensification strategies, and of course the strategy that Laurier uses to develop its campus. Also, the City of Brantford’s downtown transit terminal is a very important feature in the downtown in that it is a primary access point for students coming to the campus to support businesses in the downtown for their growth. A key component of that is, in 2014, the City of Brantford embarked on a business case for GO Transit. We have been lobbying Metro Links for a GO Transit connection. That connection will also feed into the transit terminal and provide access for inter-regional transit for commuters and students. As well we are also participating in an inter-regional transit study with Cambridge, Guelph and region of Waterloo that will feed into that terminal and provide opportunities for the future. So the transit terminal will grow based on the outcomes of these investigations. In 2016 we have a capital plan to do some refurbishing of the existing terminal, and then—as the campus grows and as the downtown grows—we have in 2023 and 2024 a major capital restructuring of the entire terminal."
Narrator: The Urban Growth Centre of Downtown Brantford will continue to grow into the future through the City’s strategic planning.
Mayor Chris Friel: "It is really about getting bodies downtown, and having a purpose for the downtown. That is what it is about, and that is why other communities are looking at what we are doing. Probably the biggest plan is the development of the Y/Laurier athletic complex on the south side of Colborne Street across from Harmony Square, which is going to bring a whole different group of people to the downtown who probably have not been here before."
Brian Rosborough: "One of our most important new projects is the athletics facility we are building in partnership with the YMCA and government funders, including the city. That project on Colborne Street will bring residents and community members from Brantford and the surrounding communities into the downtown core, and will become a hub of activity for our students. It is going to be a real center point for activity—I think—in the city when it is completed."
Jenna Garbedian: "In five years from now, I think the downtown is going to be thriving with even more restaurants and more retail. Given the amount that has gone on in the last ten years, and the commitment that we have seen from the city in improving the downtown, I think the changes are going to be astronomical and well worth it."
Scott Lyons: "If you look back ten years and said ‘what would it look like today’ I don’t think anybody imagined that it was going to be revitalized so quickly as it has. So five years from now, with the new YMCA Laurier recreation complex that is coming up, that is going to bring even more people that are downtown. I think we will start to see condos and other things, and in the next five to ten years the change is going to be as big or bigger as it has been in the last ten years."
Geoff Rae: "The downtown is going to be a very vibrant place with lots of activity year-round, and lots of new businesses and new opportunities for commercial enterprises to support the campus and the City of Brantford as it grows."
Brian Rosborough: "Laurier has recently acquired the Market Square property which will add about 300,000 square feet to our downtown campus. In time that will become a hub of activity for the campus, and it is a real strong signal of our long-term growth plans here in the community."
Mayor Chris Friel: "It has evolved so much in fifteen years, and yet every year it looks different because of what we have been able to accomplish. I wish in ten years I knew what it was going to be—I know it is going to be successful. It is going to be more successful, but I’m excited to wait and see what is going to come out of it."