Wydanotte business owners hopeful Windsor Express will play downtown

Business owners near the unoccupied Windsor Arena, also known as The Barn, are hopeful it will soon be used as home court by the Windsor Express basketball team.

On Wednesday, Dartis Willis, president and CEO of the Windsor Express, announced a proposal to have the National Basketball League team play at The Barn.

He said the WFCU Centre took a piece out of the downtown core and hopes the team can call The Barn home. The team doesn't have possession of the building and Willis wouldn't comment on the price of the project, but said it's "reachable."

Next door at Windsor Water World, Mehari Hagos runs his MH100 fitness program. Part of the program teaches basketball skills to area youth.

"That would be great for the neighborhood. Obviously The Barn has been empty for so long," he said. "It would bring a lot of action to the neighborhood. The youth in the neighborhood love basketball, so it'll be an amazing thing for the neighborhood."

Youth in Hagos's program make up two teams in the Windsor Express Youth League. Hagos said potentially seeing the team on a daily basis could, "inspire the youth to get out of the neighborhood and do better things."

Hagos was in the neighbourhood when The Barn was still largely in use, and said having it occupied again would help the area — not hurt it.

"A lot of negative things happen when a building is abandoned. So if somebody is here and there's a lot of things going on, basketball games or practice, a lot of action will be around here. Positive action," he said.

Restaurants thrilled

Still, Hagos isn't the only one excited about the possibile renewed use of The Barn.

Wyandotte St. E. business owners going through a slump in sales — especially now that it's winter — said the possibility that there may be more people in the area would be great for business

Ahmed Rumi, owner of BarBar Bakery said he remembers five or six years ago, when "it was always crazy in the downtown area."

Now he sees it getting slow during the late afternoon and through the evening. Rumi said the possibility that there may be more people in the area would be great for business.

Stacey Janzer/CBC

"It's just something that would bring people back to the downtown area to get it a little bit booming again," Rumi said.

He added that the games would be closer to the border and might entice American basketball fans to come watch games.

A block away from Rumi's bakery is Falafel Al Sham Restaurant, owned by Hussam Hafez.

Hafez said it gets a little busy at lunchtime, but the cold weather is slowing down business. He's hopeful that the Express will play downtown, because it would bring more customers.

"We need to improve the business here and it's better for the whole neighborhood," he said. "This area is a commercial neighborhood and it needs people."