By JAYMIE L. WHITE
Special to The Appalachian
STEPHENVILLE – Before a fire devastated the building at 104 Main Street and left a vacant lot, it housed numerous downtown businesses. Now there is something new to draw people to the area, something that has been in the works for many years.
The town square, now called Kin Square thanks to a generous donation and partnership with the Bay St. George Kinsmen, is nearing completion.
Bob Byrnes, President of the Downtown Business Improvement Association, said the hope is for it to be finished before end of summer.
“There are still a few finishing touches that have to be put on there, but we are hoping around the middle of August to have a kind of grand opening,” said Byrnes.
One of those touches will be a sign showing businesses who sponsor the square and some of the history involved in its inception.
“Local graphic artist, Laurie Flynn, came up with a drawing for us. It will list the local businesses who sponsored it and part of the sign will also include the history of what was there before,” said Byrnes. “I want that there so people, when they come into town, they will know what was here and a little bit of the history surrounding the square.”
The project was spearheaded by Byrnes and the Business Improvement Association (BIA), with assistance from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), the Town of Stephenville, the province, and donations from local businesses.
“ACOA came to the Downtown Business Association asking if there were any projects we were considering in regards to the development of downtown. We had an existing plan, which is about 10 to 12 years old, and we said, ‘maybe this is one of the things we need to do – upgrade what we have for our town plan,’” said Byrnes. “ACOA came across with some money for us, and we engaged a company, The Upland Group out of Nova Scotia. They came over and started doing some work on the redevelopment and the modernization of downtown Stephenville.”
Byrnes said The Upland Group had conversations with people about things that were needed in the area, and the idea of having a meeting place downtown where people could gather was one of them.
The updated town plan was presented to Council after the prospect of buying the land at 104 Main Street for a town square was brought to the Upland Group, who incorporated it into the master plan for downtown Stephenville.
“They were elated by what came up in this plan, and of course in the plan the square was one of the key components of what they thought should be developed downtown,” said Byrnes.
The BIA then drafted a proposal to ACOA to explore if there was any funding available for the project.
“ACOA came up with about 55 per cent of what we estimated the cost of the project would be,” said Byrnes. “We then approached the province, and the province came on board too. One of the things the province wanted to see is kiosks for local entrepreneurs, small businesses, young people in junior achievers and so on to get involved in.”
The initial estimated cost of the project was $800,000, but due to the pandemic and escalating prices, that increased.
“The price of lumber went up, and of course the cost of the project went up, but we were able to convince some of the counselors to help us out and give us a bit more money,” said Byrnes.
Regardless of the difficulties many businesses have faced during the pandemic, donations toward the square from local businesses have totaled nearly $40,000. Several groups have already approached the BIA about hosting events in the square, and in fact several performances have already taken place.
“NOMAD Stages put on a performance and there were about 100 people there,” said Byrnes. “For the car show a few weeks ago, center stage there was entertainment there all day, and the Friendly Invasion had a band there in the evening as well. The Sweetgrass Festival will also host events there on August 20th, 21st, and 22nd. Everybody loves the concept of the square.”
Mayor Tom Rose couldn’t be happier with what this means for Stephenville.
“This town square actually plays a significant role for our downtown business because it brings a lot of tourists into our town,” said Rose. “They’ll feel better about shopping on Main Street, but most importantly, it offers community pride to our residents. I’m very proud of the leadership of the BIA, my town staff, and my council for making this happen.”