The City of Nanaimo’s plans around the old Jean Burns building site could include closing a section of Commercial Street to vehicle traffic.
The city announced in a press release that it is now seeking feedback on options for an area of the downtown that it is calling ‘the Hub’ at the intersection of Terminal Avenue and Commercial Street.
Two of the three transit exchange options presented would close Commercial Street to vehicles between Terminal and Victoria Crescent and put a two-way cycle track there. A third option would reduce that section of Commercial Street to one lane of one-way traffic next to a multi-use path.
Last month, the city finalized the purchase of the Jean Burns site and adjacent properties on Terminal Avenue. This week’s release noted that the city has “a real opportunity to accomplish a number of long-standing goals in the downtown core” including creating a “vibrant pedestrian realm,” improving downtown “connectivity” across Terminal Avenue, and realigning the Victoria Crescent-Albert Street-Wallace Street-Commercial Street intersection.
In addition to the relocated transit exchange, the concepts include a new plaza, paths and bike lanes, street upgrades and development opportunities. The release notes that the city wants to explore ways to “create a welcoming and safe space that is a gateway” to the downtown, support businesses “by increasing accessibility and desirability in the area,” promote redevelopment along the Terminal corridor, and link to active transportation networks.
The city’s website presents three alignments for a transit exchange adjacent to Terminal Avenue between Commercial Street and Shaw Lane. The first transit exchange option would see buses enter along Terminal Avenue, the second would have buses enter from Victoria Crescent and the third would allow buses to access the exchange from either Terminal or Commercial.
The city is also sharing three design options for the rest of the area – two of them focused on public spaces and one on mixed-use development. The ‘creative’ concept “celebrates our creative history at the former Jean Burns building which was home to a vibrant arts community,” notes the city’s website, noting that design highlights would include public art. The ‘tideline’ concept would put the focus on “natural yet contemporary public space” and possibly include a water feature. The ‘building’ concept would integrate development, with space for one or two mixed-use buildings with ground-floor retail space.
Kevan Shaw, president of the Victoria Crescent Association, said business owners there are opposed to a potential road closure which he said would create a “blockade” between the crescent and the downtown core.
“It’s bad enough we’ve always had Terminal Avenue, the highway, a very busy thoroughfare that separates us, but if we don’t have that [section of Commercial Street] open to traffic, then it will be a devastating blow to our area for commerce,” he said.
Closing an access point to Victoria Crescent will lead to fewer people going there, he said, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic showed what happens when downtowns aren’t bustling, as arson, litter, graffiti and social disorder brought “decay.”
Shaw said Nanaimo already has plenty of parks and hopes the city will try to develop the Jean Burns property.
“We need more people living downtown so we definitely need more mixed-use buildings in our area, retail on the bottom with some nice little shops, restaurants, cafés, and then people living upstairs in apartments or condos who are then going to come down and shop and help those businesses thrive,” he said.
Kim Smythe, Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce CEO, said he encourages people to get involved the public engagement process. He said a transit hub in that part of the downtown can be something that brings people to the area rather than keeping them away.
“It’s going to depend on how that plaza is managed and how it’s designed not to have security and social disorder problems there,” he said.
Smythe said he understands the view that closing a section of Commercial Street will close off two areas of the downtown from each other, but said if the plans are considered as part of a broader revitalization of Terminal Avenue, Commercial Street and Diana Krall Plaza, “it starts to take on a whole different look, which I think is positive, which I think is neat for the future.”
The city will hold an open house on Sept. 25 at Lois Lane, and in the meantime, it is inviting residents to view the concept options online at www.getinvolvednanaimo.ca/thehub. The public process will continue through the fall, designs will be refined in the winter and work could begin as soon as 2022.