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Thursday, 1 April 2010

A Shout-Out to the HI and LO

The Downtowner - after
Most will have heard about the brawl that happened outside the pub on March 29. I have to say that I feel bad for Jack Jonasson, manager of the place, and the HI Hostel folks.

The Downtowner - before
I began working in the vicinity of Kennedy and Ellice six years ago and remember its predecessor, the Downtowner. Definitely a sketchy place. The vendor would open around noon which began the steady trickle of people with their King Cans in hand that came to 'party' in nearby parking lots and building entrances. A couple of hours after bar opening the cast-offs would depart the premises for a drunken, and sometimes angry, walk through the neighborhood. Paramedic trucks in the alley behind the IBM Building or lawn of the NRC complex were not an uncommon site.

I began frequenting the place when HI first took over. Despite the change in ownership and closing of the vendor, much of the sketchiness remained. The hostel folk had a decision to make to keep the place or shut it down. That's when Jonasson stepped in.

The Downtowner - during...to be continued.
It took some time but as the 're-branding' of the exterior of the building continued and the interior of the pub received some TLC, introduced new beer brands (they even stopped selling Bud for a time !), added some art and nice music and discarded the money-making VLT's, things started to change. The management and staff worked hard to create a welcoming place for the nearby U of W crowd and local music fans.

The hostel / pub redevelopment is exactly what any downtown trying to turn around needs. Yes, the multi-million dollar mega-projects get the limelight but, in the end, it is really the collection of smaller, community establishments that will set the tone for any neighbourhood.

Of course, whenever you have alcohol, regardless of whether it is downtown or at a suburban night club, you have the potential for trouble and unfortunately LO ran into that on Monday.
The rush of people to write off the area based on one incident is typical, most probably haven't set foot in the area in years, yet still disheartening.
Central Park, African Market
The change to the Downtowner has been a very positive one for the area. Add to that the recent influx of Africans to the Central Park area who have created a weekend African market and the revitalization of Central Park due to be completed this summer, and the neighbourhood is a very different place than even just six years ago.

Oh, if you are part of LO's facebook page you will have received a message from Jack about his perspective of the incident and an invite to come down Thursday at 4:30 to enjoy beer and pizza (something new from the cafe kitchen). If you're a fan of the place and can make it why not head on down !

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