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'Strengthen the Core' revitalization plan unveiled by city and police

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A new revitalization plan has been unveiled for downtown Windsor.

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens and city council, working with City administration and the Windsor Police Service unveiled the new Strengthen the Core – Downtown Windsor Revitalization Plan.

The goal is to address safety and security, increase the number of businesses, attract new residents and visitors, and make significant improvements to the city’s core.

“While the economic indicators are favourable and the wind is at our backs in Windsor, we acknowledge there is room for improvement. Feeling safe in our community and enjoying a thriving downtown is one of those areas where we can and will do better. We are not blind to the issues facing our downtown. Make no mistake, we want to help people battling mental-health and addiction issues. At the same time, we are not going to allow the behaviours often associated with people suffering these conditions to take over our city,” said Dilkens.

Through strategic investments, fiscal prudence, building amenities, forming partnerships, developing innovative programs and initiatives, and measured ongoing analysis, city council and the City of Windsor have laid the foundation for Windsor to be an attractive place and compelling hub for investment, growth, and development.

Windsor officials say the city continues to face increased challenges around mental health, addictions, and homelessness, which have significant impacts on the city’s ability to create and sustain the safe neighbourhoods that are the foundation of any thriving community.

Windsor police Chief Jason Bellaire says for their part, this robust strategy’s first action item, ‘Safe Streets,’ provides WPS with the support needed to implement a strong enforcement-based strategy that will benefit both the downtown core and our entire community.

“We are focused on a collaborative, cross-sectoral response. There will be an emphasis on police remaining highly visible while also promoting lawful behaviour. We will do this by intervening in incidents of property damage, petty crime, open drug use and other disorderly conduct in the downtown. This plan is supported by the addition of sworn officers, crime analysts, increased community engagement, enhanced lighting and closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems, and more, all in an effort to strengthen the core and help protect this community where vulnerabilities exist,” says Bellaire.

In response to the challenges and concerns surrounding Windsor’s downtown core, and in an effort to leverage the opportunities that exist in the same area, the city engaged with StrategyCorp consultants in the fall of 2023 to lead a robust consultation process with stakeholders and the public to solicit public perceptions, comments, and concerns related to the downtown; and to support the revitalization of the city core.

Residents, service providers, business owners, visitors, and anyone with insights were invited and encouraged to actively participate in the process to help shape the future of downtown Windsor. The goal was to gain a comprehensive understanding of the scope of the challenges that exist today.

The in-depth development process included an analysis of 18 one-on-one interviews; 2 focus groups with residents, businesses, and social service providers; a community survey with 3,500 respondents; and written submissions. These community consultations frequently noted concerns related to property damage, petty crime, social disorder, limited foot traffic, inconsistent attractions and events, vacancies in buildings and residences, negative media attention, and a perceived lack of safety in the core. Based on stakeholder input, the consultants helped to identify three key opportunity areas: helping people feel safe and encouraging them to engage with downtown Windsor; supporting appropriate responses to concerns surrounding homelessness, mental health, and addiction, through law enforcement; and providing better support for service delivery partners.

The community input gathered, and the resulting findings and recommendations made by StrategyCorp, played a pivotal role in guiding the formulation of a comprehensive, made-in-Windsor, solutions-oriented strategy to improve Windsor’s downtown image; help businesses, customers, and residents feel confident of their safety; and connect individuals to appropriate supports when and where needed. Seven action items were developed to help achieve the overarching goals of downtown revitalization:

Strengthen the Core – 7 Proposed Initial Action Items

Safe Streets: create and implement a strong enforcement-focused strategy to support safer streets. In launching a new “tailored to Windsor” police response model focused on sustained high visibility and collaborative cross-sectoral response, Windsor Police Service will use all approaches to promote lawful behaviour, and disrupt and intervene in open drug use, property damage, petty crime, and disorderly conduct in the downtown core.

High Standards: increase enforcement of property standards and fill vacant buildings.

Healthy Spaces: lobby upper levels of government to support wrap-around relief programs for vulnerable community members.

Place-Making: encourage people and businesses to move downtown as part of the current Community Improvement Plan (CIP) and incentives review.

Vibrant District: create vibrancy by attracting and engaging residents and visitors.

“Our Downtown”: enhance community engagement and implement a marketing strategy to celebrate and promote the core.

Stronger Together: establish formal channels to drive greater alignment and collaborations between stakeholders.

Several initiatives are currently underway to help achieve some of the objectives within the seven action items. Additionally, each of the seven proposed action items includes a full list of activities and initiatives to support the objective, as well as a list of community stakeholders to partner with to realize the overall goal.

Highlights of the extensive list of proposed activities include the following:

  • Expanding the Windsor Police Service City Central Patrol Team (CCPT), allowing for enhanced focus to improve resource allotment in the downtown
  • Implementing Windsor’s Project SafeStreets Pilot: Project SafeStreets was launched in August 2023 with four live cameras installed at private businesses in the downtown core. Through a partnership between business owners, the Downtown Windsor Business Improvement Association (DWBIA), and ACS Security, Project SafeStreets offered stakeholders an opportunity to determine if monitored cameras would have an impact on safety and security in the core. Since its inception less than a year ago, the DWBIA and its partners have found a significant reduction in crime in the pilot project areas. As a result of real-time information, WPS has been able to react quickly to situations unfolding in traditionally unmonitored sections of the downtown. Further, they have found that the cameras offered a much-needed opportunity to provide immediate assistance to people who are in crisis and in need of emergency care.
  • Discouraging loitering and panhandling on medians and in front of empty storefronts and residential buildings in the downtown core
  • Providing incentives for developers to convert existing buildings into residential units
  • Increasing financial penalties for unkept properties
  • Exploring the creation of short-term City-funded incentives to stimulate activation of current vacant commercial spaces
  • Enhancing City-owned properties in the core (parking garages, parkettes, etc.) by increasing the number of garbage receptacles and the frequency of garbage collection
  • Advocating to upper levels of government for the funding required to implement and expand social service initiatives based on each government’s area of responsibility and priorities
  • Bringing together local health leaders to determine the best approach to secure provincial funding for a low-barrier, transitional care facility where individuals experiencing an immediate mental health and/or addictions crisis can be provided with care tailored to their needs
  • Extending Homelessness and Housing Help Hub (H4) hours of operation to ensure people who are unhoused have a facility they can access prior to the opening of overnight emergency shelters
  • Exploring additional housing options downtown through the Housing Solutions Made for Windsor plan
  • Supporting the DWBIA in their efforts attract new businesses and anchor tenants downtown (for example, grocery stores and restaurants)
  • Encouraging employment opportunities downtown to create foot traffic
  • Investigating options to enhance/improve existing event venues to attract a diverse range of events and activations, and to maximize event attendance
  • Adding decorative lighting and continuing to make improvements to streetscaping
  • Collaborating with Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island and the DWBIA to create and launch a marketing campaign aimed at sharing the positive stories and highlighting the successes of the downtown core
  • Convening a table designed to improve collaboration, trust-building, and open communication between mental-health and addictions service-provider leadership and all relevant stakeholders

Next Steps:

In the coming weeks, council will receive a report from city administration seeking approval of an immediate action strategy to help address some of the urgent priorities, identifying the budget requirements to support the plan, and requesting that financing of the plan proceed to a budget amendment process to allow vital work to begin.

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