Patrons of downtown Brandon can look forward to free wireless Internet service as they sip coffee on the patio at a Rosser Avenue café, lie on the grass in Princess Park or watch skateboarders fly off ramps and rails at the Kristopher Campbell Memorial Skateboard Plaza as early as this summer.
The provision of a wireless "hub" in the core of the city's historic business district is just one of a number of downtown revitalization-themed initiatives that Renaissance Brandon hopes to realize in 2011, says the group's downtown development specialist, Braden Pilling.
"We have completed the site assessment ... and through that, we can actually cover 11th to Seventh Street, basically from Princess to Rosser Avenue, with some overlap on (either side)," Pilling said. "For someone to be able to walk from the shopping area to the park to the skate park -- wherever it might be -- they can have their phone or laptop and have available service."
The free service would be limited to two hours, Pilling noted, so as to not directly compete with the existing Internet service market.
Instead, it's hoped the freedom to surf the Net as you make your way through the downtown each day will encourage more people to patronize the area.
"We see that as a huge building block for the downtown," Pilling said.
Providing the wireless service is part of Renaissance Brandon's larger branding of downtown Brandon as "The Hub," which began late last year and included the installation of bright red street signs, benches and bike racks.
Also poised to carry Renaissance Brandon's continued vision through its third full year in existence is the creation of a secondary land use plan. The plan, when completed later this summer, will act as a framework of sorts for how both public and private development takes shape in the downtown.
"We've never had a plan that was so broad before," explains Renaissance Brandon's interim chair, Corey Roberts. "It's a plan that everybody can use -- everything from transportation to recreation to housing -- and it allows all of these different components to have a cohesive end. Not only is it a secondary land use plan ... it almost becomes a mission statement."
Between the efforts of Renaissance Brandon and the groundswell from private development already in progress along Pacific, Rosser and Princess Avenues, Roberts is optimistic that 2011 will be a "huge" year for downtown revitalization.
"The people that have always had something negative to say about downtown are going to start to have a hard time picking it apart," he said.
Renaissance Brandon ended its 2010 fiscal year with just over $360,000 in the bank, with an additional $250,000 tentatively promised through the City of Brandon's annual budgeting process and funding available from the province on a project-by-project basis.
However, the way the group moves forward with funding large initiatives in the future will very much depend on whether the Brandon Folk, Music and Arts Society is successful in securing the government funding it needs to renovate the former Strand Theatre on 10th Street into a multi-use community performing space, Roberts noted.
Renaissance Brandon has committed $474,000 to the project over two years, as long as positive word on federal funding for the project is received by April 30. That promise of funding has already been extended from an original deadline of last August.
"We really hope it happens because it would be an amazing addition to downtown and would help drive traffic ... but we can't hold on forever," he said. "Time is of the essence and there may be other projects."
Renaissance Brandon's full 2010 annual report can be viewed online at renaissancebrandon.ca.