Drive-by shopping part of new vision for Sparks St. Mall

By Mike Spelay
Pedestrians may soon be competing with cars on Sparks Street, if a new proposal is put into place.

A vision committee, made up of mall representatives, met recently to develop a plan for the future of Sparks Street, in an effort to revitalize the mall.

“Our goal is to develop a vision,” says Louis Facchini, chair of the committee, “a philosophy of where we want to go, towards a clean, neat, visually appealing and commercially viable place.”

Among the other ideas included in their vision are more restaurants and bars, rotating museum exhibits, and an uncluttered street, with smaller street furniture and patios alongside buildings instead of in the middle of the street.

But it is the idea of having traffic on Sparks Street that has people talking.

Although the committee says that the vision received “unanimous support”, some people are doubtful about the idea.

Diane Dupuis, director of communications at the National Capital Commission, a major land-owner on Sparks Street, says the response to the idea, which was unveiled at the annual general meeting of merchants and tenants, was “about fifty-fifty.”

“We assumed that it would continue as a pedestrian mall,” says Dupuis, who adds that the NCC did not include traffic in their plans.

“We hadn’t looked at vehicular traffic as an option, let alone studied it. If it’s good for the mall, though, it should be looked at.”

If the proposal goes through, it will be the first time Sparks Street has traffic in 35 years.

“They had an idea of having a pedestrian mall and it was successful,” says Facchini.
But he says with the construction of the Rideau Centre and the revitalization of the Byward Market since then, retail businesses on the street started to suffer.

“It’s still doing well, but not as well as it should be,” he says.

Sales within the outdoor mall fall drastically in the winter every year and the committee feels that having a direct vehicular route into the mall will bring shoppers onto the street.

“Our pedestrians are still our number one priority,” says Facchini.

This idea comes on the heels of other recent proposals from different groups and agencies.

The NCC has been in the news saying that it may demolish certain buildings along the street.

Bob Chiarelli’s idea for a light rail transit system includes a route along Sparks Street. And plans from the Sparks Street mall authority to give the street an urban park atmosphere are echoed in the committee’s plans.

Jack Cook, owner of Canada’s Four Corners on Sparks Street, says that of all the ideas being discussed for Sparks Street, he would like to see the light rail streetcar.

“There should be no other vehicles except that vehicle,” he says. “I’d rather not see cars on Sparks Street. It’s a pedestrian mall.”

Other reactions have been more positive.

“My feeling will always be that the only way (to improve Sparks Street) is to get rid of this pedestrian mall and install one-way traffic,” says Herb Gosewich, owner of Ritchie’s Sports-Fan Apparel Shop, who feels that “anything will help this street.”

The idea would see one lane of slow, controlled traffic, outside of core hours. No budget has been planned, and costs have not been investigated. If brought to completion, the entire project will take three to five years.
The next stop for the committee is to have the idea examined by an urban planner.