All the chairs in the public gallery were filled with business owners and community members regarding the pilot project announced this year to close 8th Street just south of the Stephen Street intersection, the only one controlled by lights. Council held a special meeting in May to close the section between the intersection and the back alley north of the Post Office from May 17 - Sept 17th as a trial for the public to gather during the day and evening, with the ability to book the space for parties, concerts, fundraisers and other gatherings.
Some business owners voiced concerns over not enough notice of the Special Meeting held where the decision was unanimously passed.
Three months later, 6 names appeared on the meeting agenda for August 28th to speak to the closure. Marilyn Skubovious, Bert and Jeff Appelt, Jeff Klippenstein and Bevan and Sandra Wiebe with Jeff Appelt, Jeff Klippenstein and Sandra Wiebe all speaking to council.
Jeff Appelt of Appelt’s Diamonds located adjacent to the closed off area, was one of the voices heard by council. He said his business is one of the only remaining long standing businesses in Morden still owned and operated by the original family since his grandfather opened the doors in 1938. He realizes the city had its own hopes and dreams for the area, but he claims no one was utilizing the space during the day and reduced parking was a complaint he heard from customers.
"Just today, I had a brand-new senior talk to me and say, 'You know what? I live downtown and there's other people here who also say it's dangerous, we don't like it, it changed the flow of traffic, and we don't have a place to park. It's just very difficult for seniors to get around, as well.' Stephen Street has been so busy over the last few years, we are actually getting so much traction down here. And parking is at a premium, and then to take away a lot of parking stalls, it's really hurting the businesses."
Sandra Wiebe of Gables Realty spoke to council as well. She and her husband Bevan have refurbished several Stephen Street buildings to enhance the downtown over the years and are not opposed to closing for special events such as the Farmer's Market and Suncatch Concerts.
"One of the main things is we want to be heard as businesses. We would like a little bit of input into what happens downtown. We have invested heavily here, and this has been an issue with parking downtown. We are not opposed to closing the street in order to have events, that's wonderful. The more events the better. I proposed moving that over to Confederation Park, a beautiful place downtown with lots of plants, flowers, trees and shade."
She added, it's close to another gathering area for the city 500 Stephen Street another meeting place in the community.
Appelt's Diamonds relocated this spring to this corner, where Bert and his son Jeff thought was a prime location. This is part of the engagement council needed in this space.
Bert has talked to many businesses in the area.
"I've been up and down the street numerous times. I've talked to, not all the businesses, but most of the businesses and asked them about the closing. As far as I know, there were only three businesses that didn't want it opened up."
As a long time, business owner in the community, Appelt noted parking has been an issue in Morden for years and hopes council doesn't close the street like this next year.
"Morden had a parking problem twenty years ago, now we have more businesses in town. So, what it did was just compound that problem."
Mayor Brandon Burley said this is good information and feedback for council to have on this pilot or test project. Information was gathered on traffic flow, parking and use of the space. Burley noted delegations, like the one at Monday's meeting, are important feedback for future decision making around the Suncatch Market Square, but not the only one.
Informal resident feedback, business and Chamber feedback and those living in the downtown area are encouraged to contact their councilors to talk about the space.
Burley did encourage businesses to unite to speak through the Chamber of Commerce.
"The Chamber is the voice of business in the community. And historically, I do understand the difficulty of getting the Stephen Street voices at the table, some of them. I think it's time, not only to ask for participation at the table here and to engage with businesses, but for businesses to engage with themselves. I think that's a simple ask and I don't think it's a complicated one. But if they want results, as a unified body and they want advocacy, we need to hear from an organization, not from many groups or organizations."
Burley added, council has other takeaways from feedback received from seniors who appreciate more lighting in the area and feel more secure in the area, when it is lit at night. Noting metrics such as safety and visibility are a few things to look at in regard to how that space is used.
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