Despite personal circumstances, Eric Morgan still cares deeply about North Bay's downtown and he is making it his focus as he campaigns as a city council candidate.
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"I was born and raised in North Bay, so I have a lot of mixed feelings when it comes to downtown," says Morgan.
His first inclination, as he gazes down Main Street is to bring up how many happy memories he has from days spent with his family, eating at restaurants and shopping or playing arcade games at Ricci's.
Then, that gaze morphs into a faraway stare as he recounts the events that tragically and irrevocably changed his life and the lives of his family members nearly 22 years ago.
Eric's father, Robert Morgan, was attacked and killed by two robbers over a small amount of cash and some cigarettes near the corner of Oak Street West and Ferguson Street in November 2000.
"A couple of kids decided they wanted what he had in his pockets, so they jumped him and ended up killing him," he says.
Robert Morgan was 54 and was survived by his wife and five children. In the obituary, the family requested donations go to North Bay Crime Prevention.
Morgan, who attended the subsequent court dates with his brother, says the two young offenders received reduced manslaughter sentences of 17 days after time served while awaiting trial.
"My father's murder is one of the main reasons for me running for council and the downtown is a driving force in that," says Morgan. "Downtown was a happy place when I was growing up. I've seen how downtown has developed over the years and how it has changed. I kind of get the feeling that it's only a matter of time that something like that happens again."
Despite his own tragic connection, Morgan says he supports downtown and has ideas on how to move forward. He suggests shutting off Main Street for the summer months to create a "festival-like atmosphere." He envisions a place for a farmers' market, artisans booths, and food trucks lined up the block. Morgan believes bringing the shops and their wares out into the street would also add to a fun and safe downtown.
"Our downtown is a beautiful place and it can be so much more than what it is. The businesses down here, they're losing out on business because people don't want to come down. It's a really important part of why I'm running for council."
At dinner hour on Saturday, downtown is fairly busy with people heading into or out of restaurants. A police SUV passes by on Main Street four of five times in an hour or so. Two men walking the street stop shouting at themselves and instead begin to shout at each other, leading to a disagreement with threats of violence that nearly escalates into something more but does not.
Morgan says he attended the recent Bay Block Party and its success has only reinforced the thinking about what a vibrant downtown can accomplish.
"Without the people down here, the businesses are going to struggle. I know we want to grow the city and bring in other businesses but not at the expense of the existing businesses. They should be the focus. It's just about bringing new ideas to the table. Some different opinions."
He adds, "It's pretty important that we do something about this downtown. Get it back to how it was when people came down here and didn't have to worry."
Morgan is one of 29 candidates vying for 10 council seats.
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The municipal elections for mayor, city councillors, and school board trustees take place on October 24 and will be preceded by advance voting options and, for the first time, online voting.