Waterloo closes another street, hoping to coax pedestrians to support local business

Waterloo plans to close Princess Street to create more space for outdoor patios. The news comes as the city closes Willis Way to make a pedestrian area, starting today.

Pedestrian friendly areas 'create a feeling of summer vitality,' Cambridge official says

A server talks to customers on the patio at McCabe's in Guelph's downtown core. Waterloo has announced Princess Street will be closed this summer to allow for more outdoor dining. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Waterloo has announced it will close Princess Street in uptown so restaurants and bars can expand their patios for more outdoor dining options in the core.

Earlier, the city announced it would close Willis Way to vehicles, placing picnic tables in the area as a "passive" public space.

Willis Way closes to vehicles from Caroline Street to the rainbow crosswalk today while Princess Street will close between King and Dorset streets on Thursday. Both will remain closed until Sept. 8.

Uptown's Coun. Tenille Bonoguore says all the businesses along Princess Street were on board with closing down the street and approached city staff with the idea.

"A lot of these businesses, they just needed more space and they're in fairly restricted zones. The Jane Bond has a very small back patio, Loloan Lobby Bar, there's not much sidewalk space for them to move onto without taking up the entire sidewalk," she said.

Expanding patio space allows the restaurants and bars to spread tables out to allow people to keep the two metre physical distance from others.

The past few months have been "extremely hard" for people, Bonoguore said, but one of the great things to come of the COVID-19 pandemic is "to see how much passion and support people have for local businesses."

These spaces allow people to continue to support those businesses in a safe way, she added.

The move was also made easier after the provincial government made an emergency order late last week to simplify the process for bars and restaurants to extend their patios. The order allows municipalities to pass temporary bylaws to allow patios more quickly. Under the Planning Act, it would normally take several weeks or more to pass a temporary use bylaw to allow businesses to create or extend a patio.

Guelph creates dining district

Waterloo isn't the only local city to allow patios to take over streets. In neighbouring Guelph, the city has started a downtown dining district.

This past weekend, two streets in the downtown core were closed to vehicles so patios could be expanded into the streets. The city announced Wednesday that the dining district will last all summer and the two roads, Wyndham and Macdonell, will be closed starting July 10 and until Sept. 7.

Mayor Cam Guthrie called the initiative a "godsend" for restaurants and bars.

"One business I talked to downtown said they jumped from about 30 per cent of their normal sales … during COVID now back to 100 per cent because of the weekend," Guthrie told CBC.

He said some businesses also reported hiring back three to four employees to help take care of hungry and thirsty patrons.

"We heard it all. We heard mostly, I would say, 90 per cent positive, 10 per cent a little bit negative from some of the businesses that don't have the patios, they're more catering to pickup or takeout," Guthrie said, noting staff are working on plans to help those businesses.

He said he appreciates the feedback because the goal is to have a staff report back to council next spring to see if the dining district could become more a permanent summer feature.

'Create a feeling of summer vitality'

Cambridge and Kitchener are also paving the way for patios to take over more streets.

In Cambridge, the Hespeler Village BIA got permission from the city to close a portion of Queen Street for patios and pedestrians on Saturdays for the summer.

"We welcome requests for similar closures from interested BIAs in an effort to create a feeling of summer vitality in outdoor spaces throughout the community and support businesses that have re-opened and/or extended their patios," said Susanne Hiller, the director of communications for the city.

She says Cambridge has made the online process to apply for outdoor dining areas and patios more simple and the city is waiving permit fees this summer.

Kitchener says it is also willing to convert sections of King Street and Belmont Avenue into seasonal patio areas for restaurants.

As well, food trucks with a valid license are being allowed to operate in residential zones so long as they don't stay in a single location for more than two hours.


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