Sparks Street’s business organization is introducing a valet parking pilot project as it continues to try and boost revenues for its stores.
The head of the Sparks Street business improvement area told All in a Day host Rebecca Zandbergen Monday they’ll start introducing valet parking to the block between Metcalfe and O’Connor streets next week.
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“As much as people may think that having cars at this time of year is going to dramatically change Sparks Street, I think we’re dealing with a lot of things that have changed over the years with the expansion of the Rideau Centre, Bayshore, suburban sprawl and how people shop,” said Les Gagne.
“I think (this) is going to be a great service for people who want to come and shop, and talk about a great convenience because where else in the city can you get that type of treatment?”
The pilot project, which will end in March, will allow Sparks Street shoppers to get a permit from a local merchant for an hour of free parking.
Gagne said the idea, which got unanimous approval from merchants and their board of directors, uses Sparks Street parking as a way to encourage shoppers during Ottawa’s cold winters.
“It’s a chance for us to create some animation and activity on the street during what would otherwise be a quiet time of year,” he said.
Sparks Street has been closed to vehicle traffic since the 1960s.
Retailers happy with new direction, but not resulting in sales
The announcement comes a few days after more than half a dozen Sparks Street shops said foot traffic was up for them thanks to an unprecedented number of events, but more people wasn’t necessarily translating to more business.
“I would sooner be in that position, with a lot of people down here to cherry pick, as opposed to nobody down here, trying to figure out what to do now,” Gagne said on Saturday.
“It's all part of the bigger plan to get people down here and build the retail and service around the social environment.”
Lindsay Appotive runs jewelry store True Bijoux and said the kinds of people who fill Sparks Street for events such as RibFest and the new PoutineFest are more browsers than buyers.
“When you’re eating ribs or poutine, you’re not necessarily thinking jewelry,” she said.
“But what’s nice is they see us so when they are in the market for something, they may just think Sparks Street.”
Gagne said there are still two more years of construction work to bring new walkways, lights and buildings to Sparks Street.
He said a new location of the Toronto-based Bier Markt restaurant is expected to open in the spring and he hopes to be able to bring in a grocery store.
In the meantime, more than 30,000 people are expected for their second annual New Years Eve celebration.