'We cannot wait for people to come': local BIAs cheer return of in-person festivals and events

WelliWOW
BIA-run festivals such as Wellington West's WelliWOW have become key parts of Ottawa's tourism landscape. Photo courtesy Wellington West BIA

With the first official day of summer around the corner, neighbourhoods across the city are coming to life, preparing for what residents and businesses hope marks a return to ‘‘normal”. 

For Ottawa’s central business improvement areas, the warm weather signals the highly anticipated return to in-person festivals and events that allow them to showcase and celebrate all that their local communities have to offer. 

“Collectively as downtown BIAs, we all agree that creating a sense of life and energy in the core is what we owe our businesses and our neighbours to get people excited again about the idea of being in public spaces together,” said Dennis Van Staalduinen, executive director of the Wellington West BIA.

OBJ reached out to some of Ottawa’s BIAs to find out what impact the return of in-person festivals and events for the first time in more than two years is having, or going to have, on their local member businesses and communities.

Wellington West BIA - WelliWow -  May - July 2022

Representing the interests of the eclectic Hintonburg and Wellington Village business communities, the Wellington West BIA has partnered with Ottawa-based community arts organization MASC to unveil a new kind of event experience that celebrates the intersection of culture, creativity and diversity this neighbourhood community is already known for.

The WelliWOW 2022 Performance Arts series will see outdoor arts and performance events popping up all around the Wellington West community, the plan being to animate local parks and public spaces and introduce a diverse range of artists and art forms.

The BIA hopes the free series will attract area residents, as well as encourage Ottawa-area or visiting art-lovers to stop by and see all that Wellington West has to offer.

“We are very intentional, trying to be as open and multicultural and as diverse an area as is humanly possible, because we believe that creativity, prosperity and great communities are built on diversity, with people meeting people who aren't like them and then forming surprising partnerships and projects,” said Van Staalduinen.
 

Preston Street BIA - Italian Week Ottawa - June 9-19

The marquee event in the city’s Italian community social calendar, Italian Week Ottawa is Little Italy’s 10-day open invitation to come and celebrate all things Italian. Returning to the streets from June 9-19, Italian Week offers something for people of all ages. Visitors can enjoy live music, local artists, shopping and, of course, great food. 

Lindsay Childerhose, executive director of the Preston Street BIA, said members are incredibly optimistic and excited about the return of in-person events.

“The Italian Festival represents such an important opportunity to celebrate and to be on the street together. Celebration within the community is such a big part of the Italian culture, the spirit of ‘la vida bella,’” Childerhose said. 

“There has been a huge transformation in our neighbourhood, and many street improvements have been made to enhance the visitor experience. We cannot wait for people to come and see for themselves, to remind them that we are here, and to encourage them to shop and support local.”

Bank Street BIA - The Best of Times - June 18-19

Kicking off its summer festival season with a shake, rattle and roll, the Bank Street BIA is collaborating with Optimal Show Experience to offer a unique ticket-free event called The Best of Times. The event on June 18 and 19 will feature themed decorations, activities, sights and sounds from the ’50s to the ’90s, giving attendees a chance to step back in time. 

Whether folks are strapping on roller skates and going for a spin or just taking in the atmosphere, the main theme is fun and connection. SabriNa Lemay, the assistant director of the Bank Street BIA, stressed that while some of the BIA’s members are still getting their feet back under them and full recovery will take time, the return of live events has brought a feeling of excitement and optimism and is driving more foot traffic and tourism dollars to the area.

“When we did the Fire and Ice winter festival in February, we heard all our businesses say that they had an increase in sales,” Lemay explained. “We saw families in a different demographic on Bank Street than we've ever seen before, which goes to show the urgency to want get back out, and that connection that people have been missing that they want so badly.”

Sparks Street BIA - Ottawa Asian Fest - July 22-24

With Ottawa Ribfest done and dusted, the Sparks Street BIA is going full steam ahead on preparing for its next outdoor event, the Asian Night Market in July. According to Kevin McHale, the BIA’s executive director, the response to Ribfest from local foodies and BIA member businesses alike was fantastic.

“I heard from several restaurant owners that they had downtown business offices scheduling parties of 20 or 30 in a group to have their first staff events in person in years,” said McHale.

For the Sparks Street BIA, helping member businesses by getting foot traffic back in the area with events is critical to helping them recover not only from the economic effects of the pandemic, but also from the devastating impact of the trucker convoy occupation earlier this year. 

“We want residents to start thinking of us as their front yard, as a place where they come and hang out and relax and bring their friends here, a place to be proud of,” said McHale. “That's a long term goal of ours, and we do that by creating a great space and great events.”