On Apr. 24, the Uptown Waterloo Business Improvement Area (BIA) was recognized for its Street Lively Active Temporary Seating (SLATS) initiative. The project is located on Princess Street and is one of the Ontario Business Improvement Areas Association (OBIAA) as one of 13 winners of its 2023 Awards.
A big drive for the project was to inspire wonder and discovery in everyone who came to visit Uptown. Tracy Van Kalsbeek joined the BIA as the Executive Director in April of 2018. Van Kalsbeek was an avid volunteer within the Waterloo Region community. She was a Board Member at Chicopee Ski and Summer Resort, Royal Highland Fusiliers and was a Council member for Oktoberfest.
“We had organizations like nonprofits and Wine Library bring over some of their [products], and they met there to do some of their programming. It was a really inclusive, bright, fun space that people could use in our community,” Kalsbeek said.
The SLATS program officially started in 2022 as Uptown featured an installation by local designer Amy Espien. The updated project added more outdoor public spaces with colourful and artistic seating among the trees and shrubs. The SLATS were used to host outdoor performances, events and non-profit programming.
In 2020, the BIA maintained Uptown Waterloo’s reputation for being a social place that focuses on local art and businesses. By working collectively with local businesses, their goal is to actively enhance the quality of life in Uptown. The team created a safe space for Waterloo region residents to explore Uptown during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“[Uptown] has close to 500 businesses and we advocate on behalf of them regarding pandemics or construction or whatnot,” Kalsbeek said. The SLATS programming was intentionally made to be wheelchair, mobility device and stroller accessible. The team also made sure to choose colours that would be easy for folks who have colour-blindness to see.
“As businesses were able to reopen and patios were becoming very, very popular,” Kalsbeek said.
Diego Almaraz De La Garza is Uptown BIA’s Program and Placemaking Manager. De La Garza is an urban designer and started his own studio, Shared Places, in 2020. He started working with Uptown as a volunteer and is now a full-time member of the team.
“We continued with our beautification program. [We installed] planters and hanging baskets, and we’ve had a lot of comments from people saying that Uptown still looks beautiful,” Kalsbeek said.
In 2021, the BIA worked alongside a group of local business owners in the region. The idea of transforming the west side of Princess Street to accommodate patios. With the help of Shared Places and ABA Architects to create a vibrant space alongside the patios.
“We created these art walks. We did the same thing with five businesses too. We employed local artists and […] it was all local artists that painted the doors as well as part of the huge land and dominion walks,” Kalsbeek said.
A BIA is an association of commercial property owners within a defined area. These members work in partnership with the Municipality to create thriving and safe business areas that help stimulate the local economy. Uptown Waterloo’s BIA always focuses on featuring local artists. Last year, local drag queen Melody Bijou had a drag performance in the SLATS space.
“The show brought almost 2,000 people to just that corner of the city in a span of three or four hours,” De La Garza said.
On April 2023, The BIA Annual Conference held an in-person gala in London, Ontario. Winners from across Ontario were evaluated from a record 47 entries from the BIA of 20 cities and towns.
“It was a lovely sense of connection with other communities. We so many people from all over Ontario, [and] seeing what everyone’s doing was very positive experience and connection between each other,” De La Garza said.
The SLATS are located close to the BIA’s FUSE lighting activation and night market location. The program was also selected to receive government funding through the “My Main Street Community Activator” program.