By Jessica Lovell
The end of the university semester had members of the Downtown Nightlife Task Force congratulating each other on past successes, while also looking at possible improvements for the fall semester ahead.
“Things went very well,” downtown business owner and task force member Mark Rodford told a small group assembled at city hall Tuesday, summing up the past year’s efforts to maintain a respectful nightlife atmosphere in the downtown. “We’re already planning for welcoming people back for next year.”
With the last exams for University of Guelph students wrapped up on Monday, the task force held the informal meeting to officially mark the end of the semester and to highlight ongoing plans for the 2014-15 school year.
Among those plans is a push to deal with the lack of late-night access to public washrooms in the downtown.
“We do have a shortage of washrooms in our downtown,” said Ward 2 councillor and task force member Ian Findlay.
Findlay plans to bring forward a special resolution at Monday’s city council meeting pushing for the city’s downtown renewal office to work on a plan for establishing public washrooms that would serve the downtown at all hours.
Findlay suggested the washroom plans could be part of the redesign of downtown streets, like Wyndham Street and the Baker Street development, which are expected to undergo major reconstruction in coming years.
In the meantime, Guelph Police Chief Bryan Larkin said that portable washrooms are already being considered for the Project Safe Semester initiative in 2014. The Downtown Guelph Business Association sponsored portable washrooms to help curb public urination during past safe semester initiatives and it proved effective, said Larkin.
“When you provide portable washrooms, people actually use them,” he said. “It’s not necessarily about enforcement, but it’s about accessibility to washrooms.”
The answer to the question of who would foot the bill for maintenance of public washrooms available around the clock was a little unclear.
Part of the reason for the resolution to city council would be to work on a plan that includes costs, said Findlay.
But he also suggested looking at a user-pay system for the washrooms, similar to some European cities.
All parties seemed to agree that the washrooms would be a valuable addition to the downtown.
“We’re very keen on having these washrooms come about,” said Downtown Guelph Business Association executive director Marty Williams.
“There’s a cost to not doing it,” said Rodford.
Larkin agreed. “There’s value in investment up front, versus the reactive cost,” he said.
Overall, this upfront investment is what the task force and Project Safe Semester – an initiative aimed at reducing alcohol-related crime and disorder – are all about, Larkin said.
Last year, the task force members scrounged $10,000 collectively that hadn’t been budgeted to put together a proactive plan, and as a result “we’re in a better place as a community,” the chief said. Violent crime, assaults and disturbances have decreased in the downtown, and feedback from the community has improved, he said.
The task force, which includes representatives from the Downtown Guelph Business Association, the Guelph Police Service, the university and various city departments, has helped to make a positive impact in the downtown in recent years, Findlay said.
He noted the Downtown Neighbourhood Association used to contact the task force regularly with concerns about noise, public fouling and the like, but in recent years they have stopped attending meetings.
Their lack of attendance can be taken as a positive sign, he said.
The task force will continue meeting and planning, recognizing that while the downtown area has its issues, there is also value in having a bustling entertainment district.
“But it’s got to be safe, it’s got to be clean, it’s got to be respectful,” said Findlay.
By Jessica Lovell