Closure of Water Street pedestrian mall draws mixed reactions
While some are sad to see the mall closed, for others it is a welcome change
The City of St. John's decision to end the Water Street pedestrian mall as planned on Monday is garnering both disappointment and support from residents.
The city turned the street into a pedestrian mall in early July to help downtown businesses — many of which are locally owned — cope with what has been a challenging fiscal year.
But what began as an experiment two months ago appears to have become an accepted "new normal" for many in St. John's.
Out on a stroll, hand in hand with her mother, Abigayle Sharon Smith, 10, said she has enjoyed the mall this summer and is disappointed by city council's announcement to close it.
"It's sad because it's so nice.… You can walk down the road on the yellow line, that's pretty cool," said Smith.
The same goes for Nina Quinton, a parent to a 2½-year-old. She said the mall has been a space for her and her toddler to connect with family and friends while supporting local businesses, in a safe and physically distant manner.
Considering how successful the mall has been, Quinton said she was shocked by the decision.
"It broke my heart and it still does," she said.
But Mayor Danny Breen said the closure is something that had to happen to begin preparation for following years through consultation with the public, businesses and downtown organizations. Breen told CBC Radio's On The Go the city is committed to making the pedestrian mall a staple for the future.
"In the beginning, we knew that we were going to have challenges. We knew that we couldn't think of everything. We wanted to get it in place, see how it worked. It was a tremendous success and we want to build on that for next year," Breen said on Friday.
"We have our work to do to make this happen for next year, but we're committed to coming back bigger and better next year and then through our consultation, we'll figure out what our timeline should be for an ending date."
Breen added the city is looking to host an open market on Water Street at some point in the fall, likely near the end of November, just ahead of the Christmas season.
A welcome change for some
However, Raymond Rowe, a regular panhandler on Water Street, does not share the same sentiment.
"When the Water Street mall closes, we'd be able to get back on the sidewalks and it'll be a lot better. We'll make more money," he said.
Rowe said a significant portion of his income came from people stopping to put in quarters into parking meters. But the mall has meant fewer quarters coming his way.
City worker Cameron Fever, having worked at the mall everyday, has seen the crowds dwindle over the past few weeks. He said he was happy with the city's decision to shut down the mall as planned, but understood why the public was disappointed.
Kirsten Morry, comfortably seated in one of the colourful chairs at the pedestrian mall, was disheartened but able to see the silver lining.
"I think it's really, really cool that they were able to make it happen so quickly.… I'll be sad to see it go but to be honest, I think this will put us in good shape to see it again in years to come," she said.