College Street businesses may seek financial compensation for sidewalk project

Owners of more than 30 College Street businesses indicated on Thursday they are interested in pursuing financial compensation from the city for lost business due to a sidewalk beautification project.

'Everyone here's been financially affected,' business owner says of beautification project

Owners of businesses along a stretch of College Street met on Thursday to discuss their options after a summer of heavy losses due to a sidewalk beautification project. (Mark Bochsler/CBC)

More than 30 College Street business owners met on Thursday night to discuss their options after a summer of heavy retail losses due to a sidewalk beautification project.

The business owners packed into a cafe on College Street and indicated they are interested in pursuing financial compensation for lost business since the $3.4 million project began in July.

The project involves replacing sidewalks along College between Havelock and Shaw streets with interlocking bricks and includes the installation of new trees, parkettes, light fixtures and artwork. Last week, the city fired the contractor tasked with completing the project.

"Everyone here's been financially affected, " Brian O'Neill, co-owner for Aziz Cafe, told the owners at the meeting. "We have a right to some sort of compensation."

Seeking financial compensation could prove difficult because it was a local business group, the College Promenade BIA, that proposed the project and is paying the more than $3-million cost with the help of a loan from the city.

O'Neill signed up 31 other businesses at the meeting to explore the possibility of compensation.

The unfinished project has left sidewalks in disrepair, storefronts obstructed and metal fencing on the street. The project was supposed to be finished by now. 

Juan Gil, who owned a shoe store on College Street, said he had to close his shop after sales took a sharp dive. The sidewalk in front of his store is clear now, but work could restart after the winter.

"We lost like 70 to 80 per cent," he said.

City 'sympathizes' with owners

Gil said he could reopen but it depends on whether or not a new contractor is hired, when any new work will start and how long it will take.

"We're closed for now and I don't know if we will open again," he said.

Coun. Mike Layton, who represents Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina, said the company on the project wasn't able to finish on time. 

"While we did our best to keep on schedule throughout the process, sadly we've been put in this position."

Layton said the city will soon look for a new company to take over the project.

In an online update of the project published in early October, the city said the "streetscape improvement work" has stopped as of Oct. 6 after the city fired the contractor for failing to abide by the contract with the city.

It said a subcontractor will address safety issues on College Street after the original contractor removes items from the site. The city will work with the BIA to reschedule the remaining work.

"We know this project has affected the businesses and residents along College Street," the update reads.

"We sympathize and appreciate your patience with the dust, noise, fencing, ramps and other inconveniences you've experienced during construction and we are committed to delivering future work in a manner that better reflects the needs of the community."