The patio party is over for now.
Next week the tables will be removed and parking lines painted as the award-winning downtown Red Deer Ross Street patio pilot project hibernates for the winter.
But business owners in the vicinity say the summer pilot had a significant impact on revitalizing and bringing more foot traffic to the city centre.
“I heard at least once a day that it was the first time they were downtown in 10 years,” said Catherine Robb, owner of Housewarmings. “They have lived here and they never came downtown. They drove by and they saw the public market and they were curious. The atmosphere and the good vibes down here — it was a huge improvement for the downtown.”
Nicole Hewitt, co-owner of Talk of the Town, said she loved the idea of the patio in the summer but it didn’t necessarily pay dividends at the cash register. Hewitt said they lost a lot of their regular customers because of the parking but there were a lot of new faces just browsing.
“I loved the idea of getting more people downtown,” said Hewitt. “We’re kinda in between. Maybe eventually people will come around to the idea of having to walk a little bit.”
The city approved the pilot in April. It included the installation of the eight patio tables on the north side of Ross Street between Gaetz Avenue and Veterans’ Park from June 1 until October.
The pilot came with an estimated $70,000 price tag and included the purchasing of the tables, the bus shelter to house the piano, other infrastructure and installation and removal of the infrastructure. The funds came out of the surplus from the Gaetz Avenue Revitalization Project.
Not only did the city provide the public gathering space, they added 24 arts and entertainment events, including two concerts on Friday evenings.
King Donair manager Murad Nesar said it was nice to look out his window to see people milling about on sunny days, enjoying entertainment and sitting on the patio seats.
Greater downtown co-ordinator Charity Dyke said based on the surveys and anecdotal information, the majority of people were happy with the pilot.
“Not just because it was a neat and interesting project but because it brought different people down into the downtown that they hadn’t seen in the downtown before,” said Dyke.
She said young children and seniors were often seen sitting at the patios or wandering the downtown streets.
“We weren’t getting that sort of demographic before,” Dyke said. “I think the patio was really great in drawing those people into our downtown, which is very important for the community gathering aspect as well as the business aspect.”
On Monday night, city council considered extending the pilot through the winter of 2012-2013. The motion was split 4-4 with Coun. Buck Buchanan, Coun. Dianne Wyntjes, Coun. Paul Harris and Coun. Lynne Mulder in support of keeping the patio open. Coun. Cindy Jefferies was absent. The motion was defeated because of the tie.
Veer said council needs to consider some factors, including maintenance and funding before making the pilot permanent. She said it was better to end on a positive note.
Dyke said it is important to talk to the community about what they think will work in a winter climate.
“I’ve been in European cities that have the same climates as we do,” said Dyke. “They do far more outdoor activities and gathering spaces than we do. . . . I think it is feasible to conduct a pilot for the winter and program it with certain activities such as ice sculptors, curling or musical events. Perhaps bring some heaters into the space and some blankets to see if the space takes off as a winter space. It’s definitely worth exploring.”
Kimberly Campbell, manager of Dots, said it would be a good idea to keep the patios through the winter because there are still nice days to bring people downtown.
“I know I wasn’t overly thrilled in the beginning but once it happened and you see it and you saw the people, it was good,” said Campbell.
Recently, the city received a Downtown Merit Award from the International Downtown Association for the pilot.
Next spring, city council will decide whether or not to re-install the patio tables.