Retailers blindsided by Elgin Street closure

Retailers along Elgin Street say they're shocked and frustrated they had to learn about new construction that's set to begin next month from the media instead of from the City of Ottawa.

Intermittent construction expected to close lanes, affect traffic starting next month

Business owners are worried both pedestrian and vehicular traffic will be affected by the upcoming construction on Elgin Street, some of which they say they were never told about. (Martin Weaver/CBC)

Retailers along Elgin Street say they're shocked and frustrated they had to learn about new construction that's set to begin next month from the media instead of from the City of Ottawa.

The first closures begin in March as Bell Canada and Hydro Ottawa upgrade facilities and replace hydro poles.

Then, the busy downtown street will close to traffic completely between Gloucester and Isabella streets for almost a year, beginning in early 2019. Streetscaping and work on sidewalks and top lift asphalt is also set to continue into 2020.

"I'm quite stressed out. I mean, my understanding was that the construction — which is necessary and I understand that — was going to be from 2019 to the end of 2019 and it was only going to be within that period," said Robin Coull, owner of the Pot & Pantry kitchenware store.

'It really is a huge impact'

She said she only found out about the March construction and continuation into 2020 within the last few weeks, and not from the City of Ottawa.

"It really is a huge impact on businesses," Coull said.

Retailers aren't millionaires ... we'll probably need the city's help to get us through this period.- Robin  Coull , owner of the Pot & Pantry

Even if sidewalks remain open, she's worried some businesses will struggle to survive if customers won't go into a construction zone.

"I feel like if people think it's not going to be comfortable to go down and shop, and it's noisy and dirty and maybe the stores aren't open, then the traffic won't come."

Robin Coull, owner of the Pot & Pantry, is worried about what impact the upcoming lane and street closures will have on her relatively new business.

Minoo Banaei, owner of Bel Fiore Flowers & Collectibles, said she's also shocked and disappointed she had to hear about the construction on the radio. "It's so short notice to adapt to this news," she said, adding the city should have told them well before now about the new impacts.

"I am not sure how the people from far away — we have customers from Kanata, from Orléans, even Manotick who are coming here — I don't know how that will affect them. I'm sure they're not coming here."

New construction surprise to councillor

"It came a surprise to me. I didn't learn [about it] until a week ago," said Somerset Ward Coun. Catherine McKenney about the work Bell Canada has to do starting next month. But she added the revitalization is necessary.

"It's such old infrastructure, at the very end of its life cycle."

Construction will involve a single lane reduction on the the west side of the street and will be staggered between city blocks, she said.

The city is also in constant communication with a business group along Elgin, she said, but acknowledged that if individual businesses feel caught off guard, the city needs to do a better job of communicating with them one-on-one.

Coun. Catherine McKenney says if business feel caught off guard by the new construction announcement, the city needs to do a better job communicating with them. (CBC News)

The city said it will offer free parking on evenings and weekends at City Hall for the 2019 construction, according to a memo obtained by CBC News, but Coull doesn't believe that will be enough. Her evening traffic happens from about 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., but the free parking won't begin until 6 p.m.

"Retailers aren't millionaires. We are doing this because we love it and we love interacting with the public and we enjoy being here, but we'll probably need the city's help to get us through this period."

But resident Brian Cooper, who often walks downtown, said he doesn't expect any problems getting around or to the businesses. He also welcomes the renewal.

"It's something that's got to be done if you want to revitalize the city. I'm sure it's going to affect the businesses, but [it's] just one of those things that's got to be done," he said.

With files from Kimberley Molina and Sandra Abma