June 14th, 2024

Downtown’s new Festival Square popular attraction year-round


By Delon Shurtz - Lethbridge Herald on November 3, 2022.

Herald file photo The newly constructed Festival Square is a year-round plaza playing host to events such as performances, farmers markets and other events.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDdshurtz@lethbridgeherald.com

A City of Lethbridge publication describes the new and improved Festival Square downtown as a “versatile, active and engaging public space for people and the local businesses in the area.”

Yawn!

No offence to the writer intended. While it’s an accurate description of Festival Square, it sounds like it was taken right out of the book “How to Talk Like a Politician.” And it’s a huge understatement.

To be fair, the full potential of Festival Square on the corner of 6 Street and 3 Avenue South has yet to be discovered. So perhaps any description will fall short. The possibilities for the vastly revitalized area, however, will be limited only by one’s imagination.

“I think we’ve just scratched the surface,” says Andrew Malcolm, urban revitalization manager for the city. “It’ll be really interesting to see who reaches out and what sort of things the general public and organizers who are out there will come up with for the space.”

Since the Festival Square grand opening in June, there have been numerous bookings, along with the weekly downtown Farmers Market. And that doesn’t even include daily use by the public who just want to sit and relax and enjoy some food.

Yoga, roller skating, jam sessions, live performances, big screen shows; the possibilities are endless.

“There was a live viewing of The Amazing Race episode that featured Lethbridge, that had over 250 people come out,” Malcolm points out. And there have been a variety of stage performances, which attracted between 25 and 75 people each.

In addition, there was a pancake breakfast during Whoop-Up Days, and Oktoberfest returned in September after a five-year absence. There is also interest for outdoor spin classes, as well as a Cinco De Mayo celebration to commemorate the anniversary of Mexico’s victory over the Second French Empire at the Battle of Puebla in 1862, which has become an increasingly global celebration of Mexican culture, cuisine, and heritage.

There is an interactive stage, entry signs, decorative column lighting, programmable lighting and site furniture to suit all manner of events and activities. The main draw of Festival Square, however, is the permanent market space with the infrastructure to support local producers, artisans and craftspeople and offer them a place to sell their goods year-round.

Festival Square construction was included in 3 Avenue reconstruction between 4 St. and 8 St. The Festival Square project, which cost $1.71 million, was funded solely through the provincial Municipal Stimulus Program, while the 3 Avenue project, which cost $10.083 million, was funded with $7,453,000 from the Canada Community Building Fund and $2.63 million from the city.

A three-day grand opening, Lighting Up Festival Square, was held in June and included opening ceremonies and speeches by various dignitaries. And, of course, no grand opening would be complete without an official ribbon cutting.

Before major renovations to Festival Square, the plaza shared space with a public parking lot that accommodated 18 vehicles. The space could be booked and blocked off for such events as the popular Farmers Market. Seemed like a win-win, until patrons of local pubs and other nighttime establishments left their vehicles parked overnight and didn’t pick them up until later the next day.

“We’d have a car parked in the middle of Farmers Market,” Malcolm says.

In addition to that, there was infrastructure like curb lines and crumbling concrete that caused problems for the elderly or someone with a disability, or even someone simply not paying attention to the “hazards.” Those hazards included power cords extending from nearby businesses to vendors because the site did not have electrical power of its own.

“Today, the former parking area is now permanently closed and is always a safe plaza space.”

The new space is a huge hit with the Farmers Market crowd, Malcolm adds.

“They love the space, they love the energy, and they’ve seen a huge increase in sales over past years.”

While nearby businesses felt the pain during construction of Festival Square and along 3 Avenue South, they have also seen “huge” increases in pedestrian traffic into their stores, especially on the days and nights when events are held. And some businesses have shown interest in using the plaza to host their own events, such as the Cinco De Mayo celebration.

The plaza also includes pedestrian street lights, canopy lights, and a permanent stage with its own canopy for protection from rain and even snow.

Snow? Really? Yes snow. The city hopes Festival Square will be used year round, and while the new facility hasn’t yet been tested by one of southern Alberta’s infamous winters, Malcolm says there are plenty of activities that could fit the bill.

“We hope to have viewing parties – a beer gardens – for the World Cup, which will run in November-December.”

A large screen TV will be installed to keep everyone entertained, and several spaces heaters set up to keep them warm. Once the World Cup wraps up in the middle of December, the city plans to prepare a natural ice surface for skating.

“It’s a Lethbridge version of Rockefeller Center, understanding that our chinook climate is a little tricky with natural ice, but we’re going to try our hands at it.”

And before any hockey fans get too excited, there’s just not enough room to accommodate a hockey game, sorry, not to mention the logistics of trying to maneuver a Zamboni.

Malcolm also points out the new lighting features of Festival Square will make the space bright and vibrant and encourage activities and various markets to continue through the darker winter season. The city believes Festival Square will help attract more people downtown, particularly in the winter when there are fewer events and other activities to bring people to the area and to local businesses.

“Those businesses still need to be open, so we’re trying to just add some more dynamic pieces that bring people into the core all year round.

And although Festival Square is a relatively small space, it’s expected to have a big impact on the downtown and rest of the community.

“It’s a really versatile and engaging space, and yes it’s not very big but what it does is it really starts to create a kind of centre point of vibrancy in our downtown.”

That vibrancy is also bolstered by nearby businesses, as well as the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, CASA, and other organizations in the area.

“We have a whole lot of vibrancy and creative uses going on in a really small area, which is really exciting, so we really see this area (Festival Square) as being kind of a nucleus for future redevelopment.”

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buckwheat

Rockefeller Centre. Looney Tunes. That’s all folks.

Guy Lethbridge

I drove past there before it snowed … mid day . Only pedestrians I saw were drug addicts .