Kitchener wants more vibrant nightlife

Looking to attract more students towards the downtown core, the City of
Kitchener is adapting


Photo by Heather Davidson
Photo by Heather Davidson

Students at Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo represent an energizing force for our local businesses in Waterloo. Students are vibrant and diverse, clocking in at over 50,000 young adults from all over the province, country and the world. That’s why it’s no surprise businesses in Kitchener want to leverage the thriving student demographic in Waterloo.

“It goes beyond economic development,” said David Marskell, CEO of THEMUSEUM in downtown Kitchener. “It goes to a much higher level narrative. Maybe these students will one day live in this community and help it grow.”

Kitchener has already made plans for growth. After an injection of millions of dollars in investment, the city’s downtown boasts wider sidewalks, better parking and an overall improved streetscape. The city also has the presence of multiple technology firms like Electronic Arts and Google, along with a number of condo developments to house the yuppie crowd they employ.

Even as professionals move into Kitchener offices for new job opportunities, students are still a very precarious piece of the puzzle when it comes to keeping the city’s economic engine running.

“A lot of the students that attend Laurier have never been to Kitchener before,” said Lindsay Woodside, a lab instructor for Laurier’s human geography course.

“It represents an economic generator,” Woodside continued, acknowledging the importance of the city building a relationship with the students that may one day return to Kitchener as young adults.

Eight years ago when Marskell was working for the Exhibition Place in Toronto, he got the call up to consider the opportunities at THEMUSEUM. At the time Kitchener wasn’t known for much, aside from its legendary Oktoberfest. “I’d like to change that,” he said, “Not that Oktoberfest isn’t fun.”

Additionally, Kitchener wasn’t known for its welcoming streetscape.

“There is a huge stigma,” Marskell continued.

“People who have lived here for a long time think there’s no parking and problems with safety.”

Venues like THEMUSEUM are using a whole lot of local flair and some creative ideas to get students to Kitchener.

Among the local offerings are new restaurants, pubs and stores that appeal to young adults. Woodside’s own project “Together We’re Bitter” Co-operative Brew Pub will also soon grace Kitchener’s streets.

“It’s not just for an older demographic. Students can be interested in experimenting with craft beer too,” said Woodside.

While pricier craft beer and quality food might draw out the young professional crowd, these establishments are drawing mixed reactions from students.

“If people are looking for a more chill vibe rather than a crazy night they might try that,” said second-year business student Allison Lum. “I don’t think I’d do that for a night out with my friends where we want to get a lot of drinks.”

“I found that [in] first and second years I’d go to clubs,” said Chad Keohane, a fifth-year economics student. “I’ve grown out of that. Now in my later years I look for the bars you can go to have a couple of local beers and maybe grab a bite to eat.”

Even if pubs can usher in older students, the traditional nightlife scene is still the most popular option to draw a crowd from Waterloo. “The only time I go to Kitchener is for Dallas on a Friday night,” said Lum.

To overcome the distance, venues might have to create more of an identity for their establishment, said Duncan Nairne, a second-year science student.

“If you end up going all the way out there to find a huge line and you want to leave it’s really inconvenient,” said Keohane.

“They have to somehow make a reputation for a night and own it.”

“I think every club has claimed a night,” Lum echoed.

“If one of the clubs in Kitchener promoted a night more aggressively people would be more willing to try [it out].”

Developing their night life scene while maintaining the local flair of venues will be important to Kitchener as Waterloo’s students progress through their academic careers and eventually settle down into their professional lives.

“Kitchener provides the alternatives in terms of crafty, artisanal places that are starting to creep up in the downtown,” said Woodside. “That’s all part of the city’s planning for creating a space where people can live, work and play.”

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