Opinion

BARKOVICH: King Street must not be neglected

Joe Barkovich

By Joe Barkovich, special to Postmedia News

Welland's King Street South is a far cry from what it used to be with empty storefronts and a great turnover in businesses which takes away from stability in the area. What, if anything, can be done to rejuvenate it, Ontario Road going west and some other streets in the vicinity? They were once bustling parts of this city but have slipped over the years to sad symbols of urban blight. (Joe Barkovich/Special to Postmedia News)

Welland's King Street South is a far cry from what it used to be with empty storefronts and a great turnover in businesses which takes away from stability in the area. What, if anything, can be done to rejuvenate it, Ontario Road going west and some other streets in the vicinity? They were once bustling parts of this city but have slipped over the years to sad symbols of urban blight. (Joe Barkovich/Special to Postmedia News)

What would it take to restore King Street South to former glory days?

“Glory” in the sense of hustle and bustle, of community, of heritage and history.

From my point of view, this is the area from Lincoln Street south to Ontario Road. It has a colourful past but what can be done to assure it a more-solid future as Welland’s growth takes it to ever more distant reaches, leaving this part of the city (and probably others) almost forgotten?

This was a thriving neighbourhood and business district decades ago. Some folks will remember its Crowland days prior to becoming part of Welland in 1960.

​It teemed with neighbourhood life. It had factories, mom and pop grocery stores, a butcher, a hotel that thrived on blue-collar workers stopping in at the end of their shifts, a bank branch where many of these same workers lined up outside the door to deposit hard-earned paycheques at week’s end, a barber shop that was a meeting place for sports and politics junkies, doctor’s office, ethnic hall, pharmacy, small-scale department store, sporting goods store, variety stores, restaurants, shoe stores, a hardware store, jewelry store and more.

But these days, many of these properties are empty storefronts, or home to businesses that try to infuse a pulse into the neighbourhood but, for one reason or another, turn out to have short-term leases on life. A here today, gone tomorrow sort of​ existence. ​Sign boards left in place, they are dead but not buried.

I shudder to think what would become of this part of town were it not for the presence of the arenas, the curling club and last but certainly not least, our hospital, oh how we need this hospital.

​All three bring people to the King Street South district, they reinforce what little identity it still has.

Other “drawing cards” are the medical lab, Hope Centre, Open Arms Mission, Blue Star restaurant and, for part of the year, Cool Licks Ice Cream Parlour, yes, an ice-cream parlour if you care to believe that.

Sad to say, and this is not being disrespectful because my roots are here, this has become a “passing through” part of the city for too many people. I’ve heard that term used in conversation every once in a while, like, “I’m passing through to see what’s left of King Street,” or “I’m just passing through on my way to the rowing course.”

​How sad is this.

​I wish things were different, but wishes don’t always come true.

It’s great to see sprawling, new housing developments in various parts of the city, for example, near the Niagara Regional Exhibition grounds and off Colbeck Drive out along the Welland River and new business/commercial projects sprouting up here and there these days.

​They get a lot of attention from politicians who sing their praises as indicators of Welland’s growth and returning prosperity, and rightly so. But I often wonder if older parts of Welland, like King Street South, are talked about in planning meetings or other committee meetings or if public consultation meetings should be held to see what, if anything, can be done about possible revitalization through various initiatives and programs — assuming these are available.

​My point is: Are older, seemingly forgotten parts of Welland, being given short shrift by the powers that be in favour of new parts of town with a bright, shiny future ahead of them?

Doing so comes at a price and great peril. Should we fear the presence of slum areas and, if not ghost towns but “ghost neighbourhoods” within the city if these older parts of the community do not get the attention that is needed?

More on this in next week’s column, with other voices having a say.

— Lifelong Welland resident Joe Barkovich has spent much of that time watching people. Get a glimpse of how Joe sees our part of the world in his weekly column. He can be reached at whererailsandwatermeet@gmail.com.