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Stephenville’s town square will be a gathering place for residents and visitors

The new town square at 104 Main St. in Stephenville is shaping up. Construction of the town square is expected to be completed by spring 2021.
The new town square at 104 Main St. in Stephenville is shaping up. Construction of the town square is expected to be completed by spring 2021. - Contributed
STEPHENVILLE, N.L. —

There was time when 104 Main St. in Stephenville was hopping with activity, but since a fire destroyed the building in 2015 the spot has been vacant.

Now a vision to turn that property into a place where people can gather is becoming a reality with the construction of a town square.

The project is an initiative of the Stephenville Business Improvement Association, the town, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and the province.

Bob Byrnes is the president of the business association. He said the idea is to turn the area into a place for people as they walk around downtown to stop and take a rest, enjoy some entertainment and shop from the kiosks that will be there.

“This is what we hope will happen here. It’ll just be a gathering place for people to utilize downtown," Byrnes said.

He added that it’ll be somewhere for the people from the town and those coming into town to go.

The town square has been on the association’s radar since 2018 when it contracted Upland Planning and Design Studio of Halifax to update its more than 20-year-old plan for improving the town’s downtown.

The consultants saw the property as a beautiful spot for a town square.

Since then the association hired Fougere Menchenton Architecture Inc. of St. John’s to take the recommendations from the plan and design the square. Construction is being done by ICR Building Solutions.

“The first thing is it’s going to bring some organization to downtown,” Byrnes said. “It will not only bring people downtown, but it will allow groups to hold events downtown.”

Byrnes sees potential for the Stephenville Theatre Festival to hold shows in the square and the kiosks as places where people who come into town selling foods and crafts to set up.

“They’re in a central location and it’s controlled," he said.

The town may also use one of the kiosks as a tourist information centre.

Byrnes said there will be adequate lighting in the square and security cameras installed.

He said the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed the construction a little as the contractor has had to wait for some materials and also deal with the rising costs of some other items.

But things are on track for the town square to be ready in the spring.

Mayor Tom Rose has checked in on the progress of construction and said it’s possible it might be ready for some use before that.

“Green spaces, and trying to revitalize main streets and pedestrian malls, they’re getting very trendy,” he said.

Like Byrnes, he hopes the town is able to build on that and hold a lot of events in the town square.

Last Christmas Main Street was shut down for a night for a special shopping and entertainment event that Rose said was very successful. The plan is to stage that again and Rose said it’s possible the town square could be a part of it, and he’s got some ideas for some other things that could happen there.

“We’re steeped in culture in Stephenville,” said Rose, noting the strong Mi’kmaq, French and Acadian presence.

“We need to re-popularize those themes. Sometimes you’ve got to sit back and remember where we came from," the mayor said. “I’m a little vintage, I guess, and nostalgic and I like to hold on to our history and our culture and I think the revitalization of what we’re planning as a town is going to be very beneficial for the people of the community and the people who come to visit.”

He said having spaces like this helps to support the community.

“The nicest thing I feel great about, you know it’s got the business and tourism attraction, but it really makes me feel good and makes my heart feel good when the community comes out," he said. “People get a pride in their community and it’s like bringing your community together."

(Diane Crocker is a west coast reporter in Corner Brook.)

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