Doug Lewis came to Orillia in 1969. At that time, the stretch of Mississaga Street between Peter and West was the “premier” block of the city’s downtown core.
“The block from Peter Street to Front was the poor sister to the other block,” he said. “In the last 30 years, that has switched around completely.”
The former high-ranking federal Conservative cabinet minister believes there are two primary reasons for the turnaround. He said the vision of “terrific entrepreneurs” Steve Clarke and Bob Willsey – proprietors, respectively, of Brewery Bay Food Company and Mariposa Market – breathed new life into that block.
“Secondly, the other thing, I believe, that helped turn the fortunes of that block around, was when that parking lot (across from Brewery Bay) was pushed through to Coldwater Road,” said Lewis, noting the large lot provided easy and accessible parking for downtown visitors.
So why not build on that concept and make parking more attractive and easier to navigate? He believes the way to do that is to turn downtown alleyways into attractive walkways that people could use to venture from downtown lots to downtown stores.
“Orillia has at least five parking lots in the downtown core … however, they lack easy pedestrian access in all directions to surrounding downtown streets,” Lewis said. “In many instances, there is access but it is present in the form of an alleyway rather than an attractive, well-signed walkway.”
He noted signage in those strategically located lots is “hard to see or non-existent. Residents may know how to find them, but visitors certainly don’t.”
The long-time lawyer believes Orillia has an opportunity to transform those dark alleyways into welcome walkways with improved surface treatment, better lighting, security cameras, benches, planters and, perhaps, an “attractive archway at the parking lot and street entrances.”
He has been ruminating about this concept for years. Recently, he decided to take action and last week, he presented his plan, which he admits is a work in progress, to the Downtown Orillia Management Board.
“They supported the plan in principle,” Lewis told OrilliaMatters. “Most people that I talk to about this have said, ‘You know what? You’re absolutely right! I never thought of that.’”
Lewis plans to pitch his plan to various groups and is looking for input. He is seeking “technical support” from the city as well.
“I want to have an exploratory meeting with staff at city hall in the near future to see what their thoughts are,” said Lewis. “In the final analysis, this is something the city will have to take on. My idea is to do as much of the legwork as I can, to get my ducks in a row, answer questions and, ultimately, make a presentation to city council.”
But the ex-politician knows timing is everything. With a municipal election in the cards this fall, he knows there’s no point trying to rush this item onto their agenda.
“It would not be wise to put a contentious issue in front of them before it’s ready. That’s why I’ve said from the outset this would be presented to the next council,” he said.
In the interim, he plans to continue to research possible funding and grant opportunities and to obtain feedback about elements ranging from possible signage to exploring wall treatments and surface preferences.
What do you think? Start the conversation here and provide your ideas and input. If you’d like to provide feedback directly, email Lewis: email@example.com