Mayor vows to play ‘hands-on’ role in ef­forts to re­vi­tal­ize Sparks Street

Wat­son says lots of imag­i­na­tion needed to trans­form 50-year-old pedes­trian mall

Ottawa Citizen - - CITY - JON WILL­ING jwill­ing@post­ twit­

A “liv­ing statue” ex­hi­bi­tion on Sparks Street this week­end might be the per­fect event for a tourist strip that’s stood still for years.

But the business au­thor­ity and the city want to fo­cus on the liv­ing part, or the “glim­mer of hope” that Mayor Jim Wat­son de­scribed on Friday as the pedes­trian mall cel­e­brated its 50th an­niver­sary.

In a joint project with the fed­eral govern­ment, the city pub­lished a re­quest for pro­pos­als to hire a con­sul­tant for a pub­lic realm de­sign study on Sparks Street.

Sparks Street now has the close at­ten­tion of the big bosses at city hall, with Wat­son putting the city on no­tice that he’ll be “quite hands-on” when it comes re­vi­tal­iza­tion ini­tia­tives, pos­si­bly to the point of mi­cro­manag­ing.

“I want to see this place an­i­mated all of the time,” Wat­son said. “You look at some of the suc­cess of the BuskerFest, Pou­tineFest and RibFest, it packs peo­ple in here, but we need some­thing in be­tween those fes­ti­vals to keep it ex­cit­ing.”

Wat­son al­ready has some small ideas, like pay­ing stu­dent mu­si­cians to play on each block of Sparks Street next sum­mer.

Some­thing, he said, to keep the en­ergy up while peo­ple shop or go for din­ner.

Sparks is close to Wat­son’s heart since he was on the street’s board of man­age­ment be­fore he en­tered pol­i­tics.

A Sparks Street re­vi­tal­iza­tion has been per­pet­u­ally in mo­tion, slowed partly be­cause the city and feds have dif­fer­ent re­spon­si­bil­i­ties (the feds own many build­ings, while the city owns the street) and politi­cians come and go.

A cou­ple of years ago the Na­tional Cap­i­tal Com­mis­sion ex­pressed in­ter­est in lead­ing a vi­sion­ing ex­er­cise for Sparks Street, even though the agency doesn’t ac­tu­ally own much there. Still, peo­ple have just as­sumed that the NCC has a big role on Sparks Street.

City of­fi­cials say now is the time to fo­cus on Sparks Street with two LRT sta­tions open­ing a block away in 2018 and Ashcroft build­ing a lux­ury condo com­plex on land be­tween Sparks and Queen streets.

The lack of peo­ple liv­ing on and around Sparks Street has al­ways been the big­gest problem stand­ing in the way of re­vi­tal­iza­tion.

“We’re look­ing at how do we get peo­ple down here. What does it take?” Som­er­set Coun. Catherine McKen­ney said.

McKen­ney said Sparks Street is usu­ally an afterthought for peo­ple who live in her down­town ward.

“The res­i­dents don’t think of Sparks as their street,” McKen­ney said. “They don’t think of it as part of their neigh­bour­hood be­cause it’s re­moved and no­body lives here.”

There seems to be more ac­tiv­ity on Sparks Street in re­cent years, with the ad­di­tion of pop­u­lar restau­rants that are pulling cus­tomers to the pedes­trian mall on nights and week­ends when the down­town is void of of­fice work­ers.

Tony Kano, the chair of the Sparks Street BIA, said the or­ga­ni­za­tion has been fo­cused on events that bring peo­ple to Sparks Street dur­ing the tra­di­tion­ally quiet hours.

Kano fi­nally sees mo­men­tum on Sparks Street with all stake­hold­ers, in­clud­ing gov­ern­ments and the pri­vate sec­tor, keep­ing their fo­cus on im­prov­ing the strip.

“It’s se­ri­ous right now. It looks se­ri­ous. We have yet to see, but I hope it’s go­ing to be a sign of good things to hap­pen,” Kano said.

Wat­son said it shouldn’t re­quire a pile of govern­ment cash to trans­form Sparks Street.

“You need to have a bet­ter mix of stores and you need some an­i­ma­tion on the street,” Wat­son said.

“I don’t think that takes a lot of money. It takes a lot of imag­i­na­tion.”


Tracey Swain is ser­e­naded by Sil­ver Elvis, a.k.a. Pete Jarvis of Toronto, as the Sparks Street Mall cel­e­brates its 50th an­niver­sary with a num­ber of “liv­ing stat­ues” en­ter­tain­ing passersby this week­end. The city is look­ing for ways to at­tract more peo­ple down to the pedes­trian mall.


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