The City of Kitchener is inviting residents to experience a new downtown this summer. Three downtown streets are being converted into open-air patios as fun, inviting places for physically-distant socializing. Gaukel and Ontario Streets have been outfitted with picnic tables, strings of lights and planters to create a vibrant and inviting atmosphere, encouraging residents to visit and support nearby restaurants and shops. King Street between Water and Francis Streets will also be closed beginning Thursday, July 30 to allow for expanded restaurant patios and plenty of space for shoppers and diners. The expanded open-air patio spaces will be in place until at least September 2020.

“The pandemic is an opportunity to innovate and reimagine what our downtown can look like,” said Ward 9 Councillor Debbie Chapman. “The conversion of Gaukel and Ontario streets into pedestrian-first, welcoming spaces will encourage residents to support downtown businesses and provide space for physically-distant socializing. The closure of King will allow restaurants to provide more outdoor patio spaces and creative uses of the space.”

With the expanded pedestrian-friendly social spaces Downtown Kitchener, the City hopes it will encourage residents and visitors to support the various nearby restaurants and shops. The seating on Gaukel and Ontario Streets will remain in place seven days a week. Gaukel Street is expected to evolve, with art and amenities added over time. When emergency measures are sufficiently lifted, live music and performances will begin. Eventually, the pedestrian-first Gaukel will extend from Victoria Park to City Hall.

“The BIA and the City have been working together to listen to the needs of our downtown businesses,” said Downtown Kitchener BIA Executive Director Linda Jutzi. “The open-air patios on Gaukel, Ontario and King Streets will allow for our visitors to experience cuisine from any of our restaurants and coffee shops, outside in open air on closed streets.  Pedestrians are all on a different journey; some are not ready to go inside. We want everyone to feel welcome Downtown. Businesses want their customers to feel confident they can shop, dine, and visit safely in following public health guidelines. The BIA and the City are working towards a plan for activating live performances within the Region’s guidelines. This aligns with our priority to support local artists and create awesome experiences for those that visit or live here.”

The reconfiguration of these streets follows a number of measures passed by Kitchener city council to reimagine how urban spaces can be used in the face of dramatically changed usage patterns. The City has heard that residents want enjoyable space and an inviting experience to support downtown businesses while being able adhering to physical distancing guidelines.

“Our community has come together in following the recommendations of public health, and we’ve flattened the curve,” said Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic. “Our residents want to support local businesses, and we’re providing the spaces needed to do so safely. I encourage everyone to visit the new spaces for yourself, enjoy a takeout meal from one of our great downtown restaurants, and soak in the summer weather.” 

The conversion of Gaukel Street into a pedestrian-first space was originally championed by downtown residents and subsequently approved by council as one of the City’s goals in its four-year strategic plan. It is another step in the work between the City, BIA, and the community towards a reimagined use of the street that will help connect a path from City Hall to Victoria Park.

Learn more about the City of Kitchener's COVID-19 response and how the Downtown BIA is supporting businesses during these challenging times. 


For more information:

Shawn Falcao
Manager, Corporate Communications and Marketing