New BIA boss says downtown Barrie construction project is currently the biggest challenge for business owners

Kelly McKenna wants to market good news stories out of the downtown

Kelly McKenna says she likes challenges.

The new executive director of the Downtown Barrie Business Improvement Association (BIA) did not have to wait long.

March 2 was her first day on the job and the next phase of the ‘big dig’ project downtown.

The initial stage of road work lasted from August-November 2019.

This latest round of construction will last until July with the closure of the Dunlop/Owen Street intersection and the closure of Dunlop Street between Owen and Clapperton.

For business owners, McKenna said the construction is going to be a massive challenge and she wants to help them through that.

During a meet-and-greet at the Sandbox Centre Monday, McKenna said it is important that downtown is highlighted and people know there is free parking and it is not closed.

Two-hour free parking is provided in the Chase McEachern Way and Maple Avenue Central parking lots from March until the end of construction. ​​Residents/visitors must print a receipt from the machine and display it on their vehicle dashboard to be eligible for the free two-hour parking.

The Collingwood resident and former small business owner remembers what her hometown looked like when she moved there over nine years ago.

In fact, McKenna said it was very similar to what downtown Barrie is currently experiencing.

“Downtown was under construction. There were hawk shops and clothes shops but only about two or three people walking downtown, nothing like it is today.”

McKenna said downtown Barrie is going through a transition, and as difficult as it is, she said the other side is the possibility of what Collingwood has.

“The construction is something we have to endure and persevere. On the other side, it is going to be beautiful.”

The city has said the construction is necessary to replace aging infrastructure. As well, the project will improve the pedestrian experience with wider sidewalks, while providing downtown businesses with more attractive and accessible storefronts. There will be new streetlights, planters and trees.

Once July rolls around, the next two phases will tackle Dunlop Street west of the Five Points, with the entire downtown project expected to be completed by November 2020.

McKenna is quick to point out the assets Barrie has with its downtown.

“The parks. The walkability of it. To go from the beach to downtown within a block is incredible. The city faces the water. There are some amazing opportunities.”

She is excited about the intensification of the downtown where more people will be living.

“Buildings are going to be popping up with new shoppers inside of them. We have to make sure there is the right kind of retail for those people.”

With every downtown comes issues that McKenna is not about to overlook, such as homelessness.

“Collingwood has homelessness. Every city has it. It is all a matter of balance.”

McKenna said part of the BIA’s strategy over the next one to two years will be getting all the good news stories out about downtown Barrie.

“There are amazing shop owners who have done amazing things.”

McKenna said the balance is to make shop owners and people feel safe in the downtown.

“It is a safe place to shop and it is a safe place to come down.”