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Nanaimo city council endorses multimillion-dollar Commercial Street redesign plan

Work to widen sidewalks, eliminate curbs and revitalize space estimated at $12-14 million
A map showing potential redesign of Commercial Street at the Diana Krall Plaza. (City of Nanaimo image)

City council has given its blessing to concept plans to revitalize downtown Nanaimo.

The plan’s final concept was presented at a meeting Monday, June 20, by Bill Corsan, city director of corporate and business development, and Ian Lockwood, professional engineer with Toole Design.

The plan proposes a redesign of Commercial Street from the Wallace Street and Victoria Crescent intersection to Dallas Square Park at Front and Church streets. The plan also includes Bastion, Wharf and Skinner streets and part of Diana Krall Plaza.

The total cost of the redesign, to be carried out in five phases from 2023 to 2028, is estimated at $11.8 to $14.2 million.

Revitalization plans call for widened sidewalks, levelled curbs and other access and inclusivity features. The plan also includes lighting improvements, additional landscaping, public art, and integration of plazas and parks.

Coun. Sheryl Armstrong wondered about the financial impact some of the plan’s features such as the additional plantings might have on operational costs.

“It’s great to have all these capital costs, but without an operating budget I find it very difficult to vote for something because operating costs will have a direct impact on taxation and we’ve seen taxation go up a lot this year,” she said.

Corsan didn’t have an answer, but noted that the city has already committed extra money for cleaning and maintenance and he expected those costs wouldn’t change much.

Armstrong also questioned proposed placements of trees, some of which had been removed as part of crime prevention measures and she wasn’t optimistic about getting crime under control in the area unless “we get the provincial government to move on secured facilities for those that need it.”

Coun. Ian Thorpe said the downtown will need more parking and wondered if the Bastion Street Parkade could be expanded, but his biggest concern was the report’s suggestion the war memorial cenotaph be moved as part of a redesign of Dallas Square.

“I note in the report that there is pending consultation with the Royal Canadian Legion, but I am really not in favour of a relocation of the cenotaph unless there is some very good reason for it … and I certainly won’t be supportive of this unless I hear that the local legions have not only been consulted, but in fact, give their approval to what is proposed,” Thorpe said.

Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said the cenotaph is a memorial, not a burial site, and the place proposed for it in the square’s redesign will make for better public access for ceremonies and gives it a more prominent position in the park. 

“It is not a people-friendly place, to be quite candid … and I think by improving it it also shows respect for the purpose of the whole cenotaph,” Krog said.

He said the plan proposals provide for public safety and accessibility enhancements along with easier street cleaning and maintenance.

READ ALSO: City of Nanaimo looking at eliminating all of Commercial Street’s curbs

Kevan Shaw, Victoria Crescent Association president, spoke as a delegation at the meeting, arguing against a proposed transit exchange on Terminal Avenue near the Commercial Street intersection.

“We all want downtown revitalized … but we do not want a transit exchange that will be a draw for public disorder [and] crime,” Shaw said, citing incidents of arson, robberies, thefts, vandalism and other crimes that have plagued the area.

“I will say… if we are in the same boat in 10 years, there will be a great deal of other troubles that will follow as a consequence,” Krog said. “We will be a society in terrible shape if we haven’t ameliorated the issues that create the street disorder that disturb all of us, that provide the source of continuing frustration, anger, disgust, sadness, that characterizes the attitudes of people left, right and centre in this community. So, I have to be optimistic … and I believe what this plan speaks to is optimism for our community.”

Council voted unanimously to have city staff include the Commercial Street re-design plan in 2023-2027 budget deliberations.

READ ALSO: Consultant gathering public input on downtown Nanaimo’s Commercial Street redesign

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The City of Nanaimo has approved a plan that would involve eliminating all of Commercial Street’s curbs and making the space more versatile with what the city is calling call ‘flex zones.’ (City of Nanaimo image)
City council has endorsed redevelopment concept plan to revitalize Commercial Street, but councillors raised questions about future maintenance costs for extra greenery and other features added to enhance downtown parks, for example Italian Square Park. (City of Nanaimo image)

Chris Bush

About the Author: Chris Bush

As a photographer/reporter with the Nanaimo News Bulletin since 1998.
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