As soon as word got out about Morden city council's decision to create a Market Square by closing a portion of 8th Street downtown, between Appelt's Diamonds and the iconic clock tower building, conversations started around the unanimous decision made by council on Friday April 28th in a morning Special Meeting.  

Morden Mayor Brandon Burley noted, this isn't a new idea to council. 

"The idea of a Market Square has been on the table, talking to former Councilor Hildebrand and current Councilor Frost, for as long as they've been on council, and it's been discussed at length. There have been different plans put in motion for it, but the trigger has never been pulled, for one reason or another. So, Council made the decision to give it a shot, and try it on a limited basis, for one summer, to see what happens. The goal is to increase pedestrian traffic downtown. We know, if we want to talk about our downtown core and brag about it and promote it as a destination, we need to get people down there." 

One business owner was caught off guard by the decision, Shawna Howard and her husband Scott run a contracting business, and own the Market Strip Mall just South of the soon to be closed area     between Stephen Street and north of the back alley beside their business.  

She was asked if she knew about the special meeting, held last Friday morning, where council unanimously passed the motion to do so.  

"No, we did not. We weren't made aware of it whatsoever. And we are Chamber of Commerce members, so we reached out to the executive, and asked if they had been contacted, or if they knew anything about this. Which their reply was 'n'o, they had not been. They were shocked about this, just as we were, and as were other local businesses. We called to find out if anybody had heard about this proposed plan that the city has, and no one knew anything about it before the decision was made." 

PembinaValleyOnline reached out to the Morden Chamber Executive Director to clarify if they were consulted in the matter. They had been informed of the plan on Tuesday of last week, but consultation is yet to take place. The Chamber will be meeting with council on May 16th, its first meeting since the decision was made.

Burley said, Appelt's Diamonds and the Pembina Hills Arts Council, which is located in the clock tower building, had been contacted by the city, as they are directly adjacent to the affected area.   

After hearing the news, Howard had some concerns. 

"We were shocked at this, of course, and quite surprised, because we hadn't been notified or talked to about this at all. Well, Scott and I decided together that we should write a letter, and send it to the mayor and City Council, and just bring up some of our concerns, because of the location and the traffic flow, and whatnot, in the area. We have an office right there. so we see it every day." 

Howard asked, "Where will the traffic go?" noting, this is the only intersection in downtown Morden with a traffic light, and she is concerned about blocking off one side of it.  She said the back alley cannot be the answer, because it isn't designed for this kind of usage, noting it's for deliveries and local traffic only. She wondered if a feasibility study had been conducted.

Howard noted, she is not opposed to the idea of a Market Square, but is concerned about the location.

"They're taking away 15 parking spots, although some businesses may be further down Stephen Street, it is just going to funnel traffic even further down. People are going to have to park further away, and it's just going to affect not only 8th Street, but it will affect all of Stephen Street. and even North Railway businesses." 

Meanwhile, a number of businesses are in favour of the move, including Morden Pharmasave.

"I am excited to see that the city has decided to create some excitement in downtown Morden this summer," said Front Store Manager Charlene Friesen in an emailed statement to PembinaValleyOnline. "The sun catch area will be a great place for activities, and I look forward to seeing how this space will be used.  

Burley noted a consumer on foot is more valuable than a consumer in a car driving by, and is far more likely to go in stores. He said alternate areas, such as Confederation Park, are not feasible as after 9 p.m., because the noise level may affect the residents living in neighbouring residential buildings.  

Burley added they want to be a council who takes chances on ideas, reminding the public this is a trial year, and council welcomes feedback to evaluate the year, when making decisions moving forward. 

"One of the ways we're going to determine whether or not this was a success is, obviously, if it translated to increased consumer spending downtown, better foot traffic through stores, services and restaurants. At the end of this trial period, we're going to engage with the businesses downtown, and we're going to find out what the result was, and that will be one of three key determinants as to whether or not it was a success. Our engagement on this is we want feedback. We want to know what impact it had, as it occurred, and to let people see for themselves what the impact was." 

Burley stressed this decision is to test and see if the Market Square concept works or doesn't, with a focus on giving the idea a try, to determine if it does or not. Then council will know, after all these years of not knowing for sure, and can make decisions about the idea for the future.