Funds finally in place for Woodstock Town Square upgrade

To continue its long-running and ongoing effort to enhance and upgrade Woodstock's downtown waterfront, the town and the provincial government announced plans to equally share the costs of the $700,000 Town Square refurbishment project.

"Today's announcement marks the next critical step in the revitalization of our downtown core," said Woodstock Mayor Arthur Slipp during the funding announcement in Woodstock council chambers Monday, Sept. 26. "Our recent municipal plan determined that infrastructure upgrades would be required to ensure that the central business district remained vibrant and strong."

The province, through the Regional Development Corporation (RDC), and the town each committed $350,000 to the project.

New Brunswick Public Safety Minister and Carleton MLA Bill Hogan attended the announcement on behalf of Environment and Climate Change Minister Gary Crossman, the minister responsible for the RDC.

Hogan, who served on Woodstock council before resigning to take on his role as MLA, said he participated in discussions surrounding the development of the Woodstock downtown core, but the details of the Town Square project came after he left council.

"This redevelopment will help revitalize Woodstock's downtown core," said Public Safety Minister Bill Hogan. "There was a strong community desire to see this space upgraded, and the provincial government is pleased to be a funding partner in a project that will support both social and economic growth."

He said projects such as the Town Square refurbishment represent a significant step forward for a growing community like Woodstock.

"One thing I always tell people about Woodstock. 'It's a fantastic place to raise a family,'" said Hogan.

Woodstock businessman John Thompson — president of Downtown Woodstock, the organization representing the town's BIA (Business Improvement Association) — said business owners are excited to see the Town Square project move forward.

"It will not only address the safety concerns of the deteriorating concrete and brickwork but will also ensure better accessibility for the public, create a welcoming and inviting community gathering space where we can host events, and help all downtown businesses by attracting local residents and tourists alike," he said.

Thompson said Downtown Woodstock members participated in the project's design phase.

Woodstock CAO Andrew Garnett said the project includes water and sewer upgrades, replacing the brick and concrete, adding new lights and enhancing the square's appearance.

He said the scope of the work includes the entire square, stretching along the east side of Main Street to Harvey Street.

Woodstock Deputy Mayor Amy Anderson, who attended the announcement, said the refurbishment would raise the surface to make businesses wheelchair accessible.

She called Monday's announcement a big step for the project that has been years in the making. Anderson said council began the process in 2018 but faced several roadblocks, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mayor Slipp said the Town Square, adjacent to the Meduxnekeag River Greenway, serves as an important venue for many of the town's social and cultural events.

"This project will integrate both public spaces to form a modern, attractive location for future commercial and entertainment events," he said.

Slipp said the Town Square project, which was a long time in coming to this moment, serves as another step in the development plan that communities must have to grow and prosper.

The mayor outlined several council decisions to make Woodstock's downcore a picturesque and inviting destination for residents and visitors.

He cited the decision several years ago to relocate the town's wastewater treatment plant from its former location near the downtown core. This past summer, Slipp added, the town undertook improvements on the King Street lift station, which occasionally created unwanted odour like the former treatment plant.

"That was another piece, I guess, to accommodate social events, thinking particularly of Dooryard (Arts and Music Festival," he said.

Slipp said the federal gas tax program provided funding support for projects like the lift station, making it easier for the town, with provincial government support, to direct funds to the Town Square and other important economic, entertainment, recreation and cultural projects.

Slipp said the improvements of downtown "gathering places," such as Town Square, the Greenway and other riverside locations, led to agreements and MOUs with other entities. He cited the deal with the N.B. Sport Fishing Association, which made downtown Woodstock a pivotal stop in its bass-fishing tournament tour.

He said they also signed an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with the Woodstock Yacht Club boating community.

Garnett said the timeline for the start and completion of the Town Square project remains to be determined, noting the next step is to issue tenders.

He said the tender process's timeline would affect the construction process's timeline.

If unable to complete the project this fall, he said, construction would begin in the spring.

Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun