Members of Virden’s Boost Committee delivered a progress report to Town Council last week, highlighting accomplishments in its first year of work and proposing new projects, including ideas for the vacant lots downtown known as The Hole.
The Boost committee has completed several projects since receiving the Virden Main Street Boost Report from the National Trust last year, which suggested ways to revitalize the town.
Boost chairperson Tiffany Cameron told council about milestones like Virden’s first Community Expo for non-profits, the Town’s photo contest, and, just recently, the release of the new Visitor Guide for Virden and area.
Virden Boost also held a tourism workshop and strategy session in 2018 that sparked a lot of discussion from local businesses, says Cameron, about the value of partnering with and cross promoting each other.
One of the suggestions in the Boost Report that garnered strong interest but hasn’t yet come to pass was wayfinding signs to guide passing drivers into and around the town. That project had to be temporarily back-burnered when the province rejected a request for funding, saying signage is “a core town function”.
The Hole is the burned-out space downtown on Seventh Ave. and what to do with it has been much discussed but is still a question mark.
Cameron told council, “We’ve had a lot of ideas but haven’t gained a lot of traction. We’re committed to talking to the landowners (of the two properties) to see what the appetite is for doing something there.”
Even a temporary installation would require the owners’ permission and with one of them no longer in the area, the outcome is uncertain.
Nevertheless, Boost pitched to council some temporary uses for the space such as: an extension of the farmers’ market, pop-up vendor market, or picnic area, and in winter, a venue for ice sculptures, a winter park, or a Christmas festival of trees.
Looking ahead, Virden Boost is investigating a grant program that would let them hire an architect to develop a design standard for Virden.
Cameron says this is important because her group “keeps hitting up against a wall when we try to do things like streetscaping, benches, lighting, garbage cans, historic buildings and signage; what we keep running into is we don’t have a plan that ties it all together.”
The consulting architect would create a guiding document to ensure a consistent look and feel for future upgrades to downtown Virden. “We’re going to try to get the funding for that architect’s design plan. I’m bringing it to council tonight in hopes you agree,” said Cameron.
Boost Committee member Jeff McConnell lent his voice in support of the design standard, telling council, “There’s a lot of desire for that to happen in our community… When A Dog’s Purpose (movie crew) was here, they made our town look like that (era in history). And that excitement is available to us.”
The nine-person Boost committee will now refine its plans for the upcoming year to present to council.