Downtown Windsor Revitalization Offers Lesson for Jax

August 5, 2014 1 comment Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Downtown revitalization efforts aren't just for United States cities. Canadian cities have worked hard to promote vibrancy in their own urban cores as well. Today, we take a visual tour of City Centre Windsor and ponder if there are applicable lessons for Jacksonville.

Last week, Jacksonville's Downtown Investment Authority (DIA) CEO Aundra Wallace presented the Community Redevelopment Area and Business Improvement District to Downtown Vision (DVI). It's Jacksonville's latest attempt at fixing downtown, an ongoing process that's already spanned over six decades. While it's been a long road for Jacksonville, it doesn't necessarily have to be that way. Today, we take a brief visual tour of a Canadian city that's transformed its heart in less than half the time: Windsor, Ontario.

Known as "The City of Roses," Windsor is the southernmost city in Canada that is separated from Detroit, its northern neighbor, by the Detroit River. Windsor was established in 1854, the year the village was connected to the rest of Canada by the Grand Trunk Railway/Canadian National Railway. That same year, the Canadian Reciprocity Treaty (free trade) with the U.S. passed, doubling trade immediately, making the border city an important international railroad hub. During the majority of the 20th century, Windsor's City Centre's riverfront was dominated by industry and railyards. In fact, GTW operated rail-barge service across the Detroit River between Windsor and Detroit as late as 1975.

Windsor, Ontario is located just south of Detroit, Michigan.

Like many cities, City Centre Windsor went through a period of decline in the late 20th century as automobile ownership and suburbs grew. Similar to Jacksonville, the city's 1959 plan dealt with blight and parking issues through the demolition of entire city blocks.

In the mid-1990s, the Windsor City Centre Revitalization and Design Study was commissioned to provide a strategy to bring new life and development in the struggling downtown. Change has been clearly evident over the last few decades. Parks featuring miles of bike trails, greenery, and pedestrian paths have replaced riverfront railyards. A casino opened in the late 1990s, followed by Chrysler Canada's headquarters in 2004, a Sports Arena in 2009, and an Aquatic Centre in 2013. It's also home to electric charging stations, free downtown Wi-Fi, and several storefronts have been put back to use with the help of a commercial rent subsidy program.

Another major coup was the city selling its City Centre auditorium and exhibition center, the Cleary Auditorium, to St. Clair College of Applied Arts & Technology for $1, while providing $3 million in incentives. Still accommodating meetings and events, the urban school has brought 800 students and 40 faculty members to City Centre. City Centre nightlife is boosted by young Americans coming over to drink because of the lower (19 years old) drinking age.

Being a downtown Jacksonville employee and advocate myself, one thing that stands out while walking around the streets of City Centre is the cleanliness. While we'll never be able to set ourselves a part from the competition by lowering the drinking age, placing a special emphasis on making sure our parks and streets are pristine is an easy to do action worth immediately investing in.

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis Davis at

Next Page: City Centre Windsor Photo Tour

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