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City and Chamber gauge support for city square

Alexis Stockford

One of five feedback  boards, attendees were invited to share any additional comments or desired city square amenities during the public consultations Jan. 28, (Alexis Stockford/The Morden Times)

One of five feedback boards, attendees were invited to share any additional comments or desired city square amenities during the public consultations Jan. 28, (Alexis Stockford/The Morden Times)

The City’s probe into the possibility of a downtown square on Eighth Street met with both praise and concern last week as almost 80 people came out to give their thoughts on the concept.
The two-part public consultations Jan. 28 gauged public reaction on the overall idea, possible amenities such as increased parking and a permanent stage, and whether to preserve through-traffic in the area.
“Probably the most important thing that came out of today was that it was a good chance for people to come in and ask questions and get the right information,” Morden Chamber chair Chad Sheldon said.
The Morden and District Chamber of Commerce and City of Morden have teamed up to explore the possibility of a square in order to increase the appeal of the downtown area.
Sheldon stressed, however, that no plans have been made and the consultations will help decide if the idea is viable.
“I think people came in with a preconceived notion or thought there was a plan in place. When they see the format here, they’re really understanding quickly that it is preliminary. It is a consultation in the discussion phase, so mission accomplished there,” he said of the day.
Attendees were presented with five boards asking them to provide feedback either through dot-voting or open ended comments.
Opinions divided as more attendees approved of the overall concept of a square (with over 30 voting that they strongly agreed or agreed with the idea while about 20 said no), but about three-quarters of those who disagreed, did so strongly. About twice as many respondents approved of a permanent stage as disagreed, while the option of added parking saw a spike in the “agree” column, although overall “for” versus “against” results saw about equal support.
Most respondents also supported the idea of maintaining traffic between Stephen Street and North Railway Street, with almost twice as many votes supporting continued traffic.
“That’s been the biggest topic of conversation,” Sheldon said. “We’re not necessarily surprised by that, but of the five boards, that seems to be the one where there’s the most discussion.”
Other suggestions left by respondents included the possible addition of food trucks, greenery, outdoor seating, increased events to make use of the square and the possibility of a square by Confederation Place instead of the proposed location next to the clock tower.
Respondents also expressed concern over accessibility to the post office, including reduced access for post delivery trucks,
A third and final consultation night will be held Feb. 9 from 4-8 p.m. at the Access Event Centre, followed by an online public survey.
“We’ll take the results of these three sessions and that online survey and city council will take the results and meet on their own and the Chamber of Commerce will take the results and meet on our own. We will both make independent decisions on whether it appeared as though there was strong enough support to move the idea forward,” Sheldon said.

Public react on both sides

Morden residents at the Access Event Centre felt strongly about the idea of a city square, both for and against the concept.
Marilyn Skubovius, who previously wrote an editorial to the media condemning the idea prior to the Jan. 28 consultations, called the idea “stupid.”
“We need the through traffic access up town. It will not improve [things] for businesses from what I can see,” she said. “I mean, I’m not against improvements; I’m not against things happening, but it will limit access to the post office, to the marketplace mall. It has to have something that improves access and a city square with a permanent stage is just not something that I can see being beneficial.”
The city has maintained that a square could be built without closing the street, but Skubovius said she was unsure how that would work.
“How would you have a permanent stage--to get semi-trucks through with a permanent stage there? I would have to see it before I would pass an opinion,” she said.
Other residents, however, said they supported the idea.
Julie Geake said she enjoyed the idea of a common space for “just a sense of community or a place to hang-out on a Friday night or the weekend, going to concerts downtown and just bringing people in and it being an attraction.”
She added that she is not against the idea of closing the street. “It’s such a short block, I don’t think it’s a huge disadvantage to have--definitely lots of ways to go around,” she said.
Likewise, Craig Doell said he approved of the idea based on past experience with Bethel Heritage Park in Winkler as a gathering point for the community.
“Last year was really the first year that I’ve actually seen it and it would be nice,” he said. “It would be nice to have a little bit of green space in ours, but I don’t see that as feasible,”
Doell added that he  likes the idea of a permanent stage and would like to see more permanent structures incorporated into the square design for use during Morden’s summer farmer’s markets, but acknowledged that he had concerns over handicapped access and through traffic that he would like to see addressed.
In particular, he noted, continued through traffic would allow closer post office access for elderly residents.