MASSENA — Participants in the first public engagement meeting of the Village’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative had the opportunity to share their views on the pros and cons of downtown Massena.
Participants took part in breakout sessions to discuss the questions posed to them regarding different aspects of the downtown core.
Using the Grasse River, organizing events to attract people downtown, bringing more businesses downtown and reinventing downtown as it once was were the main topics discussed by some members of the group of discussion.
“I would say my favorite thing is the potential of downtown. I really agree and really enjoy the river running through the middle, and I think it has great potential,” said Bill Webb, who lives in Cornwall, Ont., but works in Massena. “I think everyone loves the river, and I would really like to see restaurants that go back to the river, like Maxfields in Potsdam.”
One member of the group suggested rafting along the river, but Nathan Lashomb said that might not be possible at certain times of the year.
“We had a few gentlemen from Cornwall who do professional kayaking and then also a couple from Canton. They tend to hit the rapids at certain times of the year, but the river is really at its peak around April,” Mr Lashomb said. “So that would be a very niche time when things like that could happen. Being here for as long as I can remember, in the summer when there’s the most tourism it’s pretty low unless of course there’s a way to fix the weir in the river.
There was also talk of bringing more businesses and activities downtown.
“I left Masséna 27 years ago and, on my return, I opened two businesses in the town centre. As many people have said, I remember Massena from the 70s and 80s, and it was very walkable. There was a lot of commerce downtown and I want that to come back. I appreciate the convenience of having all my banking, post office, lawyers, accountants, everything I need is within walking distance of my office,” said Toby Violi.
“I have control of three other locations next to me and I would like everything to continue to fill the downtown corridor with retail to restaurants and bring more pedestrians there,” he said. added.
Donald Lucas remembers when downtown was the gathering place.
“All the high school kids were hanging out on the steps of the town hall and there were town balls. As a parent, you were parked on the street and watched the children and you might even keep an eye on your neighbor’s child,” he said. “I had many conversations with the older generation and that was it. And the people who were hanging out and watching their children’s social activities were going to pizza places, bars or whatever. We need to get people downtown, so part of the improvement should be to make the main street more comfortable for those hanging out on Fridays.
“Really, we can’t deny the fact that downtown Massena would be much more desirable if there was some sort of cultural, artistic center that put on musical shows or plays. That would be something, if it was done by professionals, which I would pay a lot to go and see. I would say Massena needs to do a better job and they can attract people to downtown music festivals or any type of festival, d ‘an arts festival to a blues festival to a cheese festival,’ he said.
“I would love to see downtown go back to how it was when I was a kid, when the heart of the community was downtown,” said Marty Miller. “I think that’s really important moving forward, and I think a lot of other people have the same image.”
Patricia Wilson said housing options are also important.
“We have a lot of social housing in the community. We need more mid-range housing that would accommodate professionals who would live and work downtown and spend their money there,” she said. “The other thing is the things related to the event, whether it’s free stuff, whether it’s the dances, whether it’s the theater, whatever it is as long as it’s something that will encourage people to come, to spend time and money.”
Mr. Webb suggested that they also need to cater to the needs of the younger generation.
“There isn’t a teen hangout or one thing to do downtown. So I don’t see drawing a lot of teenagers or young people if there aren’t those kinds of activities for those age groups to do,” he said.
“There is the Horizons Center downtown. It’s actually located right next to City Hall,” said Monique Chatland.
“I’m sure it’s a super cool place,” Mr. Webb said, “but as a teenager, I wouldn’t go to a place called a youth center.”