City centres re-energized with ION launch

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Photo by Yitian Cai

On Saturday June 22, Uptown Waterloo and Downtown Kitchener came together with Grand River Transit to celebrate the grand opening of the ION train to the public.

There were tens of thousands of people in attendance on June 22, the day of the ION launch, and over 73,000 people who rode the train during its first weekend.

“The energy was huge” said Tracy Van Kalsbeek, executive director for the Uptown Waterloo BIA.

The “Taking in the Sights and Lights” event was organized by the Uptown Waterloo and Downtown Kitchener BIAs in conjunction with Grand River Transit to celebrate the highly-anticipated launch of the Kitchener-Waterloo LRT system and re-energize the KW urban centres after years of construction.

“As you can imagine, the last 5 years have been crazy for construction in the Downtown and Uptown areas,” said Van Kalsbeek. “[We were] looking for a way to celebrate, when the ION got running, with the businesses who had really taken the brunt of the construction.”

The ION train system runs all the way from Fairview Mall in Kitchener to Conestoga Mall in Waterloo, connecting the two urban cores in a new and easily accessible way.

Performers, outdoor concerts, food and beverages, sidewalk sales and local business promotions were all present in the Uptown and Downtown cores to encourage people to try out the ION and rediscover what the urban city centers have to offer.

As you can imagine, the last 5 years have been crazy for construction in the Downtown and Uptown areas. [We were] looking for a way to celebrate, when the ION got running, with the businesses who had really taken the brunt of the construction.

— Tracy Van Kalsbeek, executive director for the Uptown Waterloo BIA

“It was an event that was for the entire [train] line, from Uptown to Downtown,” said Brandon Simon, Senior ION Project Manager for the region of Waterloo.

The GRT offered free transit to all transit passengers from the LRT Trains opening on the 22nd until July 1st.

“The decision to make ridership free was to really encourage people to try the ION Train as well as the whole transit system,” said Simon. “Whether that was on their day off or to test it out on their commute [to work].”

The event was the first time that the Downtown Kitchener BIA and the Uptown Waterloo BIA have worked in collaboration on a project of this scale. They are hoping to make the “Sights and Lights” event an annual occurrence.

“It helps to connect our cores that much more,” said Van Kalsbeek.

The LRT launch event was deemed a great success, and there are hopes for further collaboration between the BIAs and the GRT in the future.

“What we are hearing is that they’re excited that the ION is running,” said Van Kalsbeek.

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