Nfld. & Labrador

Water Street pedestrian mall to end next week

Despite calls from some business owners to keep the Water Street pedestrian mall going, the pilot project will end, as planned, on Monday, September 7. 

Council commits to holding it again next year, with possible fall and winter markets

The Water Street pedestrian mall opened at the beginning of July and will close Sept. 7. (CBC)

Despite calls from some business owners to keep the Water Street pedestrian mall going, the pilot project will end, as planned, on Monday, Sept. 7. 

The City of St. John's announced the decision during Monday's council meeting. 

"The downtown pedestrian mall has been, I think, beyond anybody's wildest imaginations of its success," said St. John's Mayor Danny Breen.

Even though the mall has been well received by the public, in a statement, the city said "we feel it is important to keep our commitment to the original end date."

Over the weekend, some business owners called for the pedestrian mall to remain open. 

Peg Norman, who owns The Travel Bug and The Bee's Knees, said the pedestrian mall helped them recuperate after losses from both snowmageddon and COVID-19.

She feared the closures will further hurt business, since public health measures still require restaurants to operate at reduced capacity, and fewer people can enter many retail stores at one time in order to heed physical distancing. 

When the pedestrian mall opened, St. John's Mayor Danny Breen said it was a good chance for people to get outdoors and see what the downtown has to offer. (CBC)

Still, Mayor Breen said they didn't have buy in from all businesses when the pedestrian mall began.

"There was a lot of uneasiness about it and a lot of concern," he said. 

Breen said because there's a variety of businesses in the downtown, some businesses were able to do better than others.

"Not all of them did equally as great, and some in the areas outside the pedestrian mall felt that their business was hurt," he said.

"So we got a lot of feedback and certainly there was no consensus to move forward with extending it into the fall and winter."

Debbie Hanlon, council's representative for downtown St. John's, said some elderly people had trouble accessing businesses, while banks, lawyers and some offices felt there were interruptions.

But, there was one complaint Breen said he didn't receive. 

"Surprisingly enough, the one complaint I never got through the whole thing was about parking, and that was probably the complaint that I was expecting the most," he said. 

Many people on social media expressed their disappointment about the pedestrian mall closing Sept. 7, as planned. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Meanwhile, reaction from the public was swift on social media, with many people like Twitter user Geraldine White expressing disappointment.

"Very disappointing. It was a boost to everyone during this difficult time. These are not ordinary times.... people are suffering!!!" she said.

Some retailers on Water Street also weighed in.

Though, some also highlighted problems.

"Accessibility was an issue. The next version will have to comply with the standards set for disabled access. That's a good thing," said Peter Dawe.

Now, the city will turn to gathering feedback from Downtown St. John's, businesses, and the public. 

"We look forward to engaging with the public and the [businesses] and all the stakeholders on how we can build a better and bigger pedestrian mall for next year," said Breen.

Breen says after they gather feedback and deal with the issues, they will report the outcome publicly.

In the meantime, business owners with decks on Water Street can keep them open until the end of September, but they must contact the city's Inspection Services division about modifications to keeping pedestrian pathways open. 

In the summer of 1969, a section of Water Street in St. John's was turned into a pedestrian-friendly space. (Remember the Old St. John's/Facebook)

Even though it was the first time there's been a pedestrian mall on water street since 1969, the mayor says it isn't gone forever. 

He said there is a possibility of holding markets during the fall and winter, with a similar footprint to the mall. 

As for next year, Breen says he will work to bring back the pedestrian mall.

"Absolutely," he said.

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