‘Animation’ is the key word used by an urban designer to describe proposals to revitalize Diana Krall Plaza in downtown Nanaimo.
Dave Witty, senior fellow of Vancouver Island University’s urban planning program, presented a completed redevelopment plan for the plaza to the City of Nanaimo’s governance and priorities committee on Monday, Oct. 25. The purpose of the presentation was to recommend that the city consider the Diana Krall Plaza redevelopment plan as part of discussions around Commercial Street revitalization. Witty did the redesign proposal for the plaza pro bono and VIU’s urban planning program students also contributed work to the plan.
Witty said Nanaimo jazz musician Diana Krall, for whom the plaza is named, should better reflect the artist’s international profile and renovations to the plaza should serve to animate the space.
“I think the word for us is ‘animation’ and the lack thereof,” Witty said, and cited examples of public spaces around the world that attract people.
“These are all well-animated … and, surely, when we take a look at Diana Krall Plaza, not so … It does need to be connected more fully to the downtown and its core elements,” Witty said.
The plaza’s shape creates some challenges, but its access points, location and surrounding businesses and amenities also offer opportunities. One of its most serious detracting elements is the plaza’s apparent isolation, largely because sightlines are blocked and there is very limited use of the space.
“When you walk through on a summer day it’s empty,” Witty said. “The other thing that you notice is it’s isolated. There’s stairwells around it, it’s hidden, people who are new to the city have no idea that there’s a plaza there.”
Witty said what the plaza connects to, such as the new Marriott hotel, the waterfront, Coast Bastion Hotel and Commercial Street, are critical to its success.
“It’s about recognizing that Diana Krall Plaza will only work if we do something with it, one, but connect it to beyond its own site,” Witty said. “If it’s left to be an island unto itself, it will not do what you need it to do.”
The plaza’s redevelopment plan suggests carrying out improvements in three phases. Phase 1 could start as soon as next year and deal with Commercial and Wharf streets, which would include redefining the entrance to the plaza and creating a “welcoming and comfortable meeting place for residents and visitors” and an interactive site that “clearly support the celebration of Diana Krall.”
Phase 2 would see work on the centre of the plaza and the entrance near the Coast Bastion Hotel to create a flexible entertainment space where events could be held year round with a small stage and entertainment venue. The proposal also calls for entertainment spaces near the Museum Way entrance to the plaza with a coffee shop near the library.
The third phase calls for Wharf Street to be closed off as a pedestrian space, with potentially ethnic dining at street level. Unused second-storey office space in the Coastal Community Credit Union building could be converted to restaurant and retail space. Other ideas are an elevated walkway over Front Street to connect the plaza to the Harbourfront Walkway, a fountain for children to play in at the Wharf Street entrance, and space for food trucks in an existing parking lot at the intersection of Wharf Street and Adam Grant Horne Lane.
Covered seating and bike racks are suggested in the plan, as well as landscaping added throughout the plaza.
Daniel Appell, a former Nanaimo Arts Council executive and an architectural assistant, spoke as a delegation to the committee and argued that Diana Krall Plaza isn’t needed and the proposed changes would only create competition for and draw people away from Commercial Street businesses already struggling. The plaza’s Commercial Street entrance should be faced with retail businesses with residential units behind it, he said.
“Essentially the plaza, the reason it’s empty, is because it’s not needed,” Appell said. “It’s something to consider. I know it’s a strange way to conceive of things, but sometimes looking at it from a different perspective really helps.”
The plan proposals will be presented to the public along with the overall plans for revitalizing Commercial Street.