September 23, 2015 (email)
As noted in the email, Sarah and I have visited with owners or managers of 21 businesses in the area around City Hall as well as having met with the executive of City Centre Committee and the Chair of the Sesquicentennial Committee to determine what issues merchants and landlords have with the idea of a Square at the front and sides of City Hall by closing Wellington and Downie Streets between Albert and Brunswick.
AtFocus Survey Flawed
A majority of those we met with did not participate in the AtFocus web survey or attend one of the four AtFocus workshops. This surprised me as I thought this group, the major stakeholders in any development around City Hall, would have participated or would have been encouraged by AtFocus to participate. Some questions the AtFocus survey did not ask:
1. How do you get to the area around City Hall?
2. If you are a business or a landlord how close is your business or building to the area around City Hall?
3. How far would you walk from parking to go to a business on the Square?
4. How much time do you spend in a store located in the core?
The answers to these questions would be able to determine a more accurate answer of where the Square should be and how much parking if any, should be removed.
1. We were the first ones with a plan to discuss with them anything about the development around City Hall and how it would impact them.
2. Most were not aware of the plan at the front and sides.
3. What we heard from the stakeholders group is they did not want to see any loss in parking and some were quite adamant about not relocating the buses.
4. Some commented: even if parking was added in the Erie Street parking lot why lose spaces that are visible to most stores.
5. In general, if a Square was to be developed, most preferred the plan at the front for many of the reasons noted on the attached PDF.
6. Some did not believe anything should be changed and leave it as is.
7. Some were concerned about the street closures and how it reduces drive by traffic from Ontario Street however, when they realized that the person driving by had no place to park near the store since parking behind City Hall would be gone they preferred the Square at the front and sides. By leaving the parking behind City Hall a person travelling by car into the core could still see the store from the streets remaining and parking would still be nearby and visible to the store.
8. The Square at the front and sides was the choice of most merchants because of the benefits of safe pedestrian access from all parts of the core to the Square and made the Square “naturally” active. Store activities could extend into the Square creating interest and activity in the Square with minimal loss of parking and the relocation of the buses did not have to happen for this plan to work.
9. Two of the businesses we visited on Market Place told us they did not need parking out front of their store as their customers just walk in, however based on comments from other merchants they were truly the minority.
10. I met with the Theocharis Brothers three times who have about 10 properties around City Hall. They are major stakeholders. They definitely do not want to lose the parking or the buses behind City Hall. They are not sure yet about closing Downie and Wellington Streets but have indicated if they have to have a Square then closing the streets is better than losing the buses and the parking. They would prefer no changes.
11. Downie Street merchants south of Foster’s could not see how blocking the street and stopping the pedestrian mall and perpendicular parking at George Street would benefit them.
Plan Revised to Achieve Zero Loss of Parking
We received the comments in 11 at the beginning of the month. Based on these comments, the first thought is to continue the perpendicular parking along the east side of Downie Street and continue the pedestrian mall to Battery Park (1906 formerly Romeo Park) the park in front of the Y bounded by Waterloo, Downie and Douro. The adjustment to the parking increases the number of spaces on this street from 37 to 48. This achieves a zero loss of parking for the development.
Link to Rail Shops
In addition, the solution for this concern also addressed an issue the plan did not consider: how to make it link to the Rail Shops site. The answer came from the 1965 Traffic Study that made Downie Street one way south bound from St. Patrick to Waterloo. By doing this Battery Park can become wider and expand west to the midpoint on Downie Street making it more significant and usable. By placing a tiered fountain or other water feature in this expanded area of the park it can be seen from the Square. This will draw curious pedestrians from the Square south along the storefronts on Downie Street to Battery Park. This park, at the south end of the pedestrian mall connects the neighbourhoods to the south to the Square similar to how the Cenotaph, at the north end of the pedestrian mall, connects the Square to the park system. The neighbourhoods to the south include Shakespeare Park and the Rail Shops site which connects to the lineal parkettes along St. David Street that extend to the river park system at T. J. Dolan Drive. The Downie Street extension of the pedestrian mall to Battery Park now allows the Square to be linked to the Rails Shops development. Since this plan was developed quite recently I have not had the opportunity to create and provide you with illustrations of how it would appear.
I did plan to meet with more merchants over this past week to discuss the plan of the Square at the front and sides and determine what issues they have and clear up any questions they have about it. I was planning to do this as I do not want to mislead Council with inaccurate, flawed or misrepresented information. Unfortunately Sarah is no longer with me as she has gone back to school. Fortunately I am busy however without Sarah, it makes it difficult to find the time to generate illustrations of the Downie Street link to Battery Park and the connection to the Rail Shops Development or meet with as many merchants as I would like to.
More Detail Required before RFP can be Issued
From the knowledge I have it appears at this time there is insufficient information to issue an RFP as many details of the development have not been decided by council. For example, an RFP is issued and the best plan for the Square may use a surface treatment that city staff does not approve and thus the best idea is lost to a less than perfect plan that used the right surface materials.
Retain a Project Manager
To keep this moving forward, I suggest that Council consider the idea of retaining a project manager to continue this more detailed survey with merchants in the core to receive any input and resolve any issues and come to a conclusion on the extent and size of all phases of the development. Then as project manager work with city staff, to assist in preparation of RFP’s to retain the consultants as required to develop the plans for the redevelopment of the core and continue with review of the proposed construction. The scope of work would not be limited to the following:
1. Issue an RFP to retain a traffic engineers to determine traffic impact, the realignment of parking, review of need and operation of existing traffic signals, reconfiguration of intersections to improve traffic flow, etc.
2. Research and work with staff options for surface treatment materials that are durable, accessibility friendly, easy to remove and replace to permit future under surface work, durable to snow removal, etc.
3. Research and work with staff and possibly retain consultants to determine species of trees to be used in various areas to ensure the species can survive in the proposed environment.
4. With feedback from the merchant survey and with city staff determine needs for different types of utilities for various events that may take place in the Square and issue.
5. With feedback from the merchant survey and with city staff determine methods of exterior illumination of the Square for evening use and events.
6. With feedback from the merchant survey and research to determine the needs of potential users for a performance area in the Square.
7. With feedback from the merchant survey and research to determine the type of water feature to be developed in front of City Hall.
8. With this information issue a prequalification tender to landscape design build firms.
9. Assist in the selection of the preferred landscape design build firms.
10. Assist in the preparation of the RFP for a design build proposal to landscape firms for the design, layout and construction incorporating accepted materials and features.
11. Assist with staff in the selection of the landscape design build firms
12. Review the work to ensure proposed design standards are met.