About 45 people packed into Quitters on Monday night to take part in a panel discussion called Re-Inventing Stittsville Main.
I organized the event along with the Stittsville Village Association, the West Ottawa Board of Trade and Rick Tremblay from Quitters, with a goal of starting a conversation about the future of Stittsville Main.
Quitters was the perfect spot. It’s been called Stittsville’s unofficial town hall, where neighbours gather and great conversations happen. The idea from this event came from discussions I had last spring with a few of the regulars.
I moved to Stittsville seven years ago, and like many people one of the reasons was that “small town feel”. The soul of our small town is anchored very much by Stittsville Main Street. It’s where most of us run our weekly errands, it’s where interesting, independent small business owners set up shop, and it has so much history … and so much potential!
For Monday’s event we asked some big, broad questions: How can we encourage the right mix of shops and businesses to ensure a healthy Stittsville Main? What is the right mix? And how do we attract developers, investors and creative entrepreneurs to set down roots in our community?
As of last fall there is a new Community Design Plan (CDP) in place for Stittsville Main that provides a framework for how the neighbourhood should develop over the next 20 years: building height, density, setbacks from the street, roads and sidewalks, and so on.
So far there hasn’t been any formal plan around what kinds of businesses would make sense here. To use a metaphor: the CDP gives us the framework to say “we’re building a restaurant”, and here’s roughly how big the building is and what it’s shaped like. But it’s not intended to say what kind of restaurant, what kind of food, what kind of clientele, and so on. We haven’t figured any of that out yet.
That’s what our panel and our audience – residents, business owners, developers and landowners – dove into. The panelists included Rick Tremblay (Quitters), Alan Whitten (Huntington Properties), Jamie Hurst (City of Ottawa economic development office) and David Nash (Mayor of Merrickville). The event was moderated by Sueling Ching (West Ottawa Board of Trade) and featured comments from Councillor Shad Qadri as well..
The entire event was webcast and recorded (thanks Bengt Neathery from ISI Live), and you can watch it below. Thanks also to Barry Gray for his photography.
Two of the most frequent words heard in the 90-minute discussion were “opportunity” and “potential. We heard about ideas for attracting local residents and outsiders; success stories from other communities; and the many strengths people already see on the street. We also heard about challenges, like traffic and parking, plus development and economic pressures.
We could have kept the conversation going for another few hours. My hope is that the meeting will inspire stakeholders and leaders in the community to keep the conversation going, and step up to refine a vision and plan to revitalize the street.
Things are moving fast: this week I’ve heard about two new locally-owned businesses coming soon to the southern part of the street: an art studio and a restaurant. More to come!
Check out Friends of Stittsville Main Street on Facebook for updates about new businesses and developments.
“We want to have a walkable, liveable street that is active and has a myriad of activities throughout the year… We believe that more business, more competition – restaurants, bars, boutiques, interesting shops – can make Stittsville a destination.”
Rick Tremblay, Quitters
“Stittsville and Kanata have been a huge growth story… the trade area is probably about 125,000 people. It’s a great opportunity. A good location means traffic, which means retail sales, and people are attracted to be there. That applies to residential as well. Stittsville has a lot going for it… It should be avery successful area, right in this axis. I’m concerned that developers and entrepreneurs will go elsewhere if there’s no place to park… I’m wondering if there’s not very much happening until we get the trucks off the street.”
Alan Whitten, Huntington Properties
“Clearly there is high resident and business engagement in this area. When I think of opportunities that are unique to this area, it’s the traditional Main Street look & feel. The traditional main street designation provides the direction for future developments, including the creation of pedestrian and transit-friendly development and encourages good quality design. The second thing I would mention is the village character… I think there’s an opportunity to be leveraged there. The third opportunity would be cycle tourism. All of those things give the opportunity to make the area both an attraction and a destination for both local residents as well as for tourists.”
Jamie Hurst, City of Ottawa
“It’s a small town atmosphere [in Merrickville] and that’s what people like. We’ve become an event town… we have events that we bring in 5,000 people… Our biggest problem is finding parking for them… We’ve got an excellent Chamber, we have a lot of people who take pride in their community, that’s what makes it great… If you go back 25 years ago, Merrickville was basically a boarded up community… an investor came in and he saw the potential and started to build things… all of a sudden the boutiques started to grow.”
David Nash, Mayor of Merrickville
“People want to stroll and walk and ride and amble through their main street and they want to meet their neighbours… We have just come through an era of cars and spread-out living, and Stittsville is certainly a part of that, but there is a real yearning for people to reconnect with their Main Streets.”
“Stittsville is like a gateway to the Valley. we’re very lucky. We have one foot in the City of Ottawa, and all the people living here… and we are the entryway to the beautiful Ottawa Valley… We have the old Stittsville and the young family Stittsville.”
“We have such untapped potential. We’re oozing potential here. We have the Trans Canada Trail. I would love to see more bikes .. .people use the trail all through the winter summer. Our walkability score is in the 90s. I can go anywhere with my feet.”
Amy Walker, Walkerworks Framing
“The optics are so important. When people come in they want to see those hanging flower baskets. It’s important to have a bench that the poor guy can go sit on while his wife shops… The coffee shops are the heart of the community.”
“Stittsville is at a crossroads… about 10 years ago when I first started developing properties here, there was a desire to keep it as a single family home community… A lot of you have mentioned how’d you’d like to see more density, more walkability… In a time where different design ideas, different ways of living are becoming important, different ways of running businesses, a lot of these new things are influencing how this community is able to grow. and because it has so much potential, it’s at the right time to really become something cool.
Akash Sinha, Dharma Developments
“So we’re gonna marry heritage village with funky and cool. That sounds good.”
Sueling Ching, West Ottawa Board of Trade
— Glen Gower (@glengower) November 22, 2016
Video courtesy of ISI LIVE.