Ottawa

Sealed ByWard Market walkway could soon reopen

Off limits to the public for more than two years, a walkway in the ByWard Market could soon be reopened as part of a proposed redevelopment.

Developer to take on security, other improvements to Waller Mall in deal with city

The gates of the Waller Mall pedestrian walkway have been closed since February 2017. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Off limits to the public for more than two years, a walkway in the ByWard Market could soon be reopened as part of a proposed tower project.

Since February 2017, the 80-metre-long Waller Mall, which connects Rideau and George streets between Dalhousie and Cumberland streets, has been barricaded, mostly over concerns about security, loitering and drug use.

There was an awful lot of drug dealing and loitering and just not pleasant surroundings.- Bill Campbell, nearby resident

But the city councillor for the area, Mathieu Fleury, said a developer's plan to build a parking garage under a section of the walkway provides an opportunity to right a wrong.

"The city is looking at that developer to redesign the Waller Mall completely," Fleury said. "It kind of resets the access there. It's been problematic, there have been too many incidents."

In order for the developer to build beneath the public passageway, it must first attain permission from the city. Fleury said the city is more than happy to consider that in exchange for certain improvements including better lighting and other amenities, as well as security and winter maintenance.

"We're leveraging the opportunity," Fleury said.

Coun. Mathieu Fleury says a developer's plan to build a parking garage underneath the Waller Mall could provide an opportunity to open up the walkway that has been closed since 2017. 0:46

Safety concerns

The underground parking garage is part of condo and hotel tower proposal for the former Beer Store site near Rideau and Cumberland streets, just to the south side of the Waller Mall.

To the north sits the St. George condo tower, which in the 1980s became responsible for closing the walkway gates every evening in return for the city installing fencing.

Coun. Mathieu Fleury said the city has no intention of privatizing the public walkway. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Bill Campbell, a St. George resident for 12 years, said it became increasingly difficult to maintain the walkway.

"It was a very convenient way to get from George Street to Rideau, but there was an awful lot of drug dealing and loitering and just not pleasant surroundings," Campbell said.

Campbell said the decision was made to keep the gates locked in the winter of 2017, when heavy snow rendered the passageway all but inaccessible.

"When the better weather came, people liked it being closed because it got rid of this collection of people dealing drugs, so it stayed closed," Campbell said

The nearby St. George condo tower was responsible for opening and closing the Waller Mall gates until 2017. They have remained locked since. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Marie Devlin works near the Waller Mall, but said she was never tempted to use the shortcut.

"I don't think that I personally would use it. There's often quite a bit of loitering around here," she said.

Neha Majithi welcomed news that the passageway might soon be reopened.

"I would be so convenient if it was open," said Majithi. "If you clean up the area maybe there won't be any loitering."

This notice created a backlash among people who feared it meant the city was privatizing the public walkway. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Privatization fears unfounded, Fleury says

The notice announcing the proposal has caused an uproar on social media, however, where some feared the city was privatizing a public passageway.

Fleury said he's spoken with city staff, and there's no plan to privatize the walkway — but he understands how the notice could be misinterpreted.

"I'm uncomfortable with how the city is describing it, because it really speaks to the closure of a lane," Fleury said. "It's a city right-of-way and we're protecting that. There's no question about that. The service remains public."

While the enhancements to the walkway would be done by the developer, Fleury said the city will have the final say on the design. Work is scheduled to begin as early as this fall, he said.

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