Nfld. & Labrador

St. John's pedestrian plan should have a much longer footprint this summer: restaurateur

Jeremy Bonia, who cofounded the restaurants Raymonds and the Merchant Tavern, would like to see St. John's experiments run for a longer period of time.

Proposal doesn't go far enough, restaurant owner says

Jeremy Bonia, co-owner and sommelier at Raymonds in St. John's, says the city's proposals are too short and don't go far enough. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

The City of St. John's has revealed two options for opening up sections of the downtown to pedestrians only this summer, although one restaurant owner says the new options don't go far enough.

While the city is looking at allowing restaurants and retailers to add temporary extensions to their premises, it is also considering two ways of closing traffic for a greater pedestrian footprint. 

One option would involve closing traffic on parts of Water and Duckworth streets for three weeks in July. The other would see road closures on weekends in July and August. 

Jeremy Bonia, co-founder of Raymonds and the Merchant Tavern, says he's happy the city is proposing ways to help business, but wishes the initiative would last longer.

"If you're going to do a test, why not do it fully out and see? Go through at least a couple of months, so we can invest the time and the money and the effort into doing what needs to be done," he said.

"If it doesn't work this year, you don't have to revisit it again, and we'll all know that. But at least try it."

Bonia said most restaurants would have to make an investment in things like outdoor furniture, permits and other costs. But if everything is done correctly, he said, the downtown could see a big rebound.

"It's vital because we are at half capacity. And our business models aren't based on half capacity," he said. "Any way they can help with that, if we can expand onto an outdoor corridor the days we're able to do, that would be immense."

'A starting point'

St. John's City Councillor Debbie Hanlon said the city wants to help the roughly 600 businesses in the downtown, and opening the streets to foot traffic only is a possible way to improve the economy.

"There's the full gamut of businesses down there and they all have different opinions on what should happen, so what we're waiting to do is to get the feedback from the businesses," she told CBC News Wednesday afternoon.

"We're looking at it now as a starting point … eventually it may turn into something much larger, but we have to start somewhere."

St. John's Coun. Debbie Hanlon says the city is waiting for more feedback from businesses, through Downtown St. John's, and hopes to make a decision in council in the next couple weeks. (Gary Locke/CBC)

While many people looking to shop or get a bite to eat might be in favour of making streets pedestrian-only, Hanlon said the initiative is meant to support business owners in the downtown.

"It's great that we're getting all the feedback from the public, because it looks like they would support it, but at the end of the day, this is about helping the businesses," she said.

"This is something that we can grow on and get started and evolve it as time goes by."

Patios on the horizon

Last month, Mayor Danny Breen said the city is looking at options to help downtown businesses through the impact of COVID-19. One option was allowing businesses to expand into streets, sidewalks and patios in the summer months.

According to one city proposal, businesses such as restaurants and retail shops wishing to expand their business onto the sidewalk can apply to the city for a parklet — or temporary extension. Businesses serving alcohol must meet requirements put in place by the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corp.

St. John's city council is proposing to turn sections of Water Street and Duckworth Street into pedestrian-only spaces this summer. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

The city says restaurants will be able to secure the area outside their building for table service. They will also be providing picnic tables for take-out service. Parking garages will be maintained, with parking spots at spaces like City Hall and areas outside closed streets available.

The other proposal — closing downtown roads in order to make pedestrian-only zones — includes two options of how the city could move forward.

The first option involves closing sections of Water and Duckworth streets for three consecutive weeks from July 3 to July 26. Roads would be closed from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., with event hours put in place for the public.

Water Street would be closed from Adelaide Street to Prescott Street, with Duckworth Street closing from Cathedral Street to Kings Road. Allowances would be made for deliveries and business access as needed.

The second option involves closing sections of the road on weekends throughout July and August. Roads would close from 8 a.m. Friday to 10 p.m. Sunday, with similar event hours in place as the first option.

The proposals have been sent to the Downtown St. John's Business Commission for their input.

Hanlon said council should then make a decision on the options in the next couple of weeks.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Lukas Wall and Alex Kennedy and Peter Cowan

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