Sparks Street businesses must move: NCC

By Laura D’Amelio

The National Capital Commission has asked 12 business tenants on Sparks and Queen streets to leave by Aug. 31 to make way for a new commercial and residential complex, even though the start date for construction at the site is unclear.

The businesses, including a sports shop, hair salon and men’s shop, are located between O’Connor and Metcalfe.

Most found out in January their yearly leases would be replaced in 2002 with monthly terms to accommodate upcoming construction.

Now they are preparing to leave by the end of the summer, forcing them to miss out on the lucrative revenue from the fall and winter months when shoppers get ready for Christmas. None of the businesses have been informed on when construction will actually begin.

“I can’t blame the government for what will happen later, that’s progress,” says Herb Gosewich, owner of Ritchie’s Sports-Fan Apparel Shop, of the proposed building. “But why don’t they wait until after Christmas? What do they have to gain by asking us to leave in August?”

The NCC used $40 million of federal money to purchase the land and $2.56 million to start planning the project.

“The targeted opening date for the building is late 2004 to 2005,” says Laurie Peters, spokesperson for the NCC. “In order to allow a good two years of construction time, that would bring us to fall 2002 to start.”

Tthe construction start date depends on the time that is needed to accommodate the type of tenants that will be in the new building, Peters says.

Constructing office space would take longer than building the space for a restaurant. Right now Truscan Property Corp., the developer of the $80-million project, is still working out who the new tenants of the 12-storey building will be.

“We want to get going as soon as possible, late summer or late fall,” says Paul Snyder, president of 131 Queen Street Limited, a division of Truscan. “But it is dependent on the leasing.”

While the businesses are generally not upset about the NCC’s future plans, Gosewich worries about the buildings being vacant for a few months while he and the other businesses have yet to find new locations.

“I’d say 80 per cent of these tenants rely on Christmas business in November and December,” says Gosewich. “I’ll be losing 30 per cent of my yearly volume. Maybe even 40 per cent if you count September to December.”

Paul Clusiau, manager of men’s clothing store Marvi Uomo, agrees.

“It’s better to have the fall season, it’s important,” he says. “It’s 20 per cent of the revenues for the year.”

Peters says if construction does not start immediately this fall, the NCC will offer to extend the leases of the businesses on a monthly basis.

“The Aug. 31 date says basically that we won’t be renewing a long-term lease,” she says. “If there is an opportunity to stay, then the leases can be negotiated.”

Hard Times Café has only been at its location on Sparks Street for 18 months and has already been hit hard financially by the non-smoking bylaw. Now, like many of its neighbours, it is searching for a new location and is not having an easy time.

“We are currently looking for places to relocate to,” says Michael, manager of the café, who declined to give his last name. “But it will be expensive. Do you know of any place?”

“Maybe (the NCC) can help us find a spot to relocate to,” suggests Clusiau. “They have many buildings.”

The new building is part of the NCC’s giant Sparks Street renovation project.