Those attending the recent Alberta Main Street Coordinator’s meeting in Lethbridge took a walking tour of downtown Lethbridge led by Downtown Lethbridge Business Revitalization Zone (BRZ) Executive Director Ted Stilson and complimented by the always-engaging historical anecdotes of Belinda Crowson, President of the Historical Society of Alberta. During the tour Ted mentioned several initiatives of the BRZ and local community that are making downtown Lethbridge an attractive and vibrant place to be.
The BRZ has been active since 1988 but really started to have an impact when they partnered with the Alberta Main Street Program and the City of Lethbridge in 2000 (the BRZ and Lethbridge Main Street are now one and the same). The first major infrastructure project undertaken by the City in the downtown included improvements to Festival Square – an adaptable outdoor public space fronting Galt Gardens and located just outside the BRZ office. This flexible space allows for temporary road closures to host events and is home to the downtown Farmer’s Market. This past summer the Southern Alberta Ethnic Association, Heart of Our City, business sponsors and the Downtown BRZ hosted World Cup celebrations in Festival Square. A portion of Festival Square was cordoned off for an LED screen, public seating and a beer garden. Over 500 residents attending the final games and total attendance for the week was over 2,000. Impressive!
One of the first things you will notice about downtown Lethbridge is that it is spotless. This can be attributed to the very successful Clean Sweep Program that has been in operation for approximately seven years and employs up to 15 individuals from local shelters for part-time work to water plants, clear snow and pick up litter in exchange for a wage and transition to more stable housing opportunities. For the past four years the BRZ has administered the program under contract from the City and works closely with local agencies to run in the program. The Clean Sweep team also picks up cardboard and does detailed snow removal/lawn maintenance under contract with individual businesses. During my most recent trip to Lethbridge for the Main Street meetings I was up with the sun for two (very silly) early morning jogs – both days I encountered friendly faces of the Clean Sweep Program hard at work.
Downtown Lethbridge has a very successful graffiti removal program. For over two years the City has employed a graffiti removal team who are responsible for year-round, City-wide service. Additionally, for 10 years the Downtown BRZ has contracted a graffiti removal company that can provide service within 48 hours for downtown-specific requests.
Here are a few more tidbits about downtown Lethbridge:
- It’s old. Covering more than 30 blocks, downtown Lethbridge includes more than 100 buildings that are more than 50 years old. Built in 1908, Fire Hall No. 1 is the oldest standing brick fire hall in Alberta.
- There is a lot to eat. Having experienced a recent diversification of dining options, downtown is now home to 45 restaurants.
- Historic Main Street is getting a facelift. Plans are in place for reducing traffic from four lanes to two lanes, planting trees and widening the sidewalks as part of a streetscape improvement project for Round Street (5th Street), projected to occur within the next three years. Funding is already earmarked for a similar streetscape improvement project on 3rd Avenue.
- More people are starting to live there. Downtown is starting to see an increase in the conversion of second storeys into residential units.
- Anti-sticker stickers work. The (ironic) application of stickers reading ‘No Unauthorized Postering or Stickers Allowed’ has been extremely effective in reducing visual clutter on street furniture (along with the simultaneous installation and promotion of poster collars).
The next time you are passing through Southern Alberta, take a few hours to stop in and check out downtown Lethbridge – you will be happy that you did.
Written by: Rebecca Goodenough, Municipal Heritage Services Officer