Two fenced-off parks will be reconstructed as part of major upgrades to Terminal Avenue in downtown Nanaimo.
At a meeting Wednesday, Feb. 15, the City of Nanaimo’s finance committee voted to recommend that council increase the budget by $1.4 million for Phase 1 of Terminal Avenue corridor upgrades in 2023.
The work will include watermain and storm sewer upgrades underground, and some reconstruction and of the highway including narrowing the lanes and adding a median. The city will also tie in redevelopment of Italian Square Park in front of Port Place mall and Pioneer Square Park near the old firehouse.
Concept artwork shows limited grassy areas at both parks, with Italian Square Park featuring walkways and “accent planting to frame the Italian fountain” and Pioneer Square Park largely devoted to “native and adaptive planting with seasonal interest.”
Richard Harding, general manager of parks, recreation and culture, said the two parks are part of a gateway to the city and the intention is to make them appealing and accessible.
“Everyone’s allowed and encouraged to be in all or our parks, but they also need to be there in appropriate ways and appropriate times and so the goal with the plantings and the design is to encourage that it’s usable throughout the day for everyone, but not to be a place to erect structures or to live there,” he said.
Coun. Hilary Eastmure had concerns about some of the particulars of the park designs and looked for assurances that changes could be made.
“I’m not really comfortable with this sort of thinly veiled hostile architecture approach that we’re taking to try to discourage types of use,” she said. “I’d rather us take an approach of what kind of usage do we want to encourage and go at it from that angle.”
Bill Sims, general manager of engineering and public works, said there will be no reduction in the number of travel lanes along Terminal Avenue, but a “slight” narrowing of the lanes within Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure specifications. A staff report noted that “a significant part of the project is to enhance the pedestrian experience” and that sidewalks would be rebuilt further from the vehicle lanes, and crosswalks would be improved at Commercial Street, Gordon Street and Esplanade.
Two delegations spoke at the meeting and raised concerns about a transit exchange along Terminal Avenue as a future phase of the project; however, councillors generally felt that topic was outside the scope of their decision-making at this week’s meeting.
Coun. Ben Geselbracht said he understands why residents and business owners might be fearful that things could change for the worse, but said nobody wants things to get worse. He said business owners he spoke to on Commercial Street reported that they’ve had their best year on record.
“There’s people that are downtown using the spaces, commerce is kicking back up after COVID and I think we really need to keep that in mind and we need to make this place a very enjoyable space to be,” he said. “I definitely understand. Some days it does feel like armageddon down there. There’s people lining Old Victoria and it’s really sad that we’re in the middle of a homelessness and addictions crisis and people are in this state. There’s a lot of disorder that comes around that.”
Coun. Paul Manly also suggested that he recognizes people aren’t happy with the social problems downtown, but said “dolling up these parks while we’re dealing with asset management upgrades makes sense” in the meantime.
Coun. Erin Hemmens had a similar view, saying that the work would complete an asset management project, take advantage of provincial funding, remove fencing from parks and meet downtown design guidelines, and said those factors add up to a win.
“I think the tricky line between revitalization and not doing anything until we’ve solved safety and disorder is a really tricky one and I prefer to be on the side that believes that beautification supports the community overall and that in and of itself is a way to combat what we’re all feeling and facing downtown,” she said.
According to a staff report, the project’s extra costs are due to inflation and additional water main being added to the project. The city’s portion of the project is now estimated at $3.8 million, with the province kicking in $1.2 million. Work is expected to get underway this year.
Council voted 7-1 in favour of increasing project budget. Coun. Janice Perrino was the lone committee member opposed, saying she was concerned that the project was over budget before work had even started. Coun. Tyler Brown was absent.
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