Ottawa

ByWard businesses say it's their turn for a revamp

A $129-million plan to rejuvenate Ottawa's historic ByWard Market heads to city council for approval next week, and business owners say it’s about time the area saw some civic love by way of upgrades.

City's $129M plan to reconfigure historic market district heads to council Wednesday

The city's top priority in its ByWard Market plan is the reconfiguration of York Street between Sussex Drive and ByWard Market Square, eliminating the strip of parking spaces down its middle. In future, it could be closed off as a plaza for events. (CBC and City of Ottawa)

Latest

  • City council unanimously approved the plan on Jan. 27, 2021.
  • Mayor Jim Watson also said a committee would begin planning 200th anniversary celebrations for 2027.

A $129-million plan to rejuvenate the historic ByWard Market heads to Ottawa city council for approval next week, and business owners say it's about time the downtown area saw some civic love by way of upgrades.

As it nears its 200th anniversary, Ottawa's original commercial district is still at the top of sightseeing lists, but many people who live and work there say it's looking run down. 

Even city staff referred to the market as a "district in distress" before presenting revitalization plans to Ottawa's finance committee last month.

The idea is to make better use of the city's 10 hectares of the market, mostly its streets. The city plans to "reclaim" 3.2 hectares of that space for pedestrians by widening sidewalks for patios and benches, and reconfiguring roadways so whole streets can be closed for events and festivals.

The city's plans include tearing down its aging parking garage to make way for a 'destination' structure facing the historic market building. (City of Ottawa)

The aging municipal garage at the market's core would be replaced by a new "destination" building with much-needed public washrooms. William Street would be the only street permanently closed to traffic.  

At the "gateway" to the area, the ramp over the sombre pedestrian underpass at Sussex Drive and Rideau Street could be demolished to make the area brighter and improve cycling connections.

"It's the biggest thing to happen down here since I've been around," said John Borsten, owner of the Metropolitain Brasserie, The Grand Pizzeria and for 35 years, Zak's Diner.

Lively summer a sign of what could be for the ByWard Market, store owner says

CBC News Ottawa

3 months ago
1:05
Mandy Gosewich, who owns a fashion boutique, says the vibrancy of the ByWard Market has slipped away in the past decades and hopes any redevelopment plans can bring energy back to the neighbourhood. 1:05

York Street a 'wasted' boulevard

The way Borsten sees it, if the city needs to redo sidewalks and install new lampposts anyway, it might as well do the job right and create wide, flexible public spaces that can be used for events such as Canada Day.

"I think the future of the ByWard Market depends on it happening," he said.

Borsten and partners have just bought the old building that housed the Fish Market restaurant at the prominent corner of York and William streets, a building that has borne witness to countless changes over its nearly 150 years. Someday, when the pandemic is over, the streetscape outside its doors might host a concert for 7,500 people.

This pedestrian underpass near Rideau Street and Sussex Drive can feel unsafe, according to planners. The plan for this gateway to the ByWard Market area includes reconfiguring the intersection to demolish the ramp. (Olivier Plante/CBC)

York Street, with its wide roadway and strip of parking spaces down the middle, is the city's top priority for the revamp.

"It's a giant boulevard. It's just wasted. It's just surface parking," said Borsten. 

Mandy Gosewich looks out on York Street from her boutique, STUNNING! Fashion + Accessories. As a girl, she would see live chickens for sale on the street when she visited her shopkeeper grandparents in the ByWard Market.

She's the fourth generation in her family to operate a business in the market and says times are changing yet again, with younger generations less dependant on cars and keener on open public spaces, especially since the pandemic.

This past summer, Gosewich watched as families spent whole days in the ByWard Market when the city closed off streets for patios.

ByWard Market revamp should focus on more flexible public space, restaurant owner says

CBC News Ottawa

3 months ago
0:57
John Borsten, who owns several restaurants in the ByWard Market, says the neighbourhood needs to be a much more lively and dynamic space, with more room for pedestrians and the potential to hold big events in the area. 0:57

"It was really wonderful to see the amount of people who were down here hanging out," she said. "It really brought back the vibe of the market that had gone away."  

Like Borsten, she thinks it's the market's turn for some municipal attention.

"Lansdowne has been a huge focus for the city, and I think their cup has runneth over, and I think it's time to give love back to the ByWard Market," said Gosewich.

The hunt for funding

While city council is expected to approve the plan on Jan. 27, it doesn't yet have the money for a dozen projects pegged at $129 million.

Coun. Mathieu Fleury says the cost is comparable to a couple of road renewals, and believes the city can make the case for funding. The revamp creates coveted public outdoor space, and helps local businesses and farmers recover from the pandemic. Plus the National Capital Commission already has a major stake, he points out.

"It just checks so many of those boxes when you think of a federal or provincial [funding] application," said Fleury.

William Street would be the only ByWard Market roadway to be made permanently traffic-free, forming a north-south backbone from the Rideau Centre. (City of Ottawa)

Others with a stake in the ByWard Market have seen enough ideas come and go that they're not counting on the full plan to happen, or at least happen quickly.

This time, however, the area's blend of retailers, restaurants, bars and homes appear more unified and supportive than they have in the past. That said, the perennial disagreement over parking versus pedestrian space continues.

Some shops maintain that losing parking will harm sales because their customer bases extend beyond the neighbourhood, and most shoppers simply won't walk far with heavy bags.

"We have been assured by the politicians that most of the parking that will be removed will be replaced, so I'm optimistic about that," said John Diener of longstanding Saslove's Meat Market.

Diener, who also lives in the ByWard Market, hopes this will be the plan to finally lift up an area that looks more "tired" as each year goes by.

"We're hoping that the great majority of these things actually do take place, because I think it would be great for the city and certainly great for the area."

The City of Ottawa parking garage at 70 Clarence St. would be replaced by a landmark civic building at the heart of the ByWard Market, according to the city's latest plans. (Olivier Plante/CBC)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Porter

Reporter

Kate Porter covers municipal affairs for CBC Ottawa. Over the past two decades, she has also produced in-depth reports for radio, web and TV, regularly presented the radio news, and covered the arts beat.

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