City launches campaign to revitalize Sparks Street – Ottawa

The City of Ottawa is launching a robust campaign to bring more people to Sparks Street, saying the time is right for the 50-year-old downtown pedestrian mall to once again realize its potential.

The historic street just south of Parliament Hill became pedestrian-focused in 1967, but its last major refresh was in 1989, according to Kevin McHale, the executive director of its business improvement area.

McHale was one of dozens of residents, planners and politicians who attended a public forum at Ottawa City Hall Saturday morning. It served as the public launch of an initiative that’s been gathering steam over the last few months and will continue to be worked on through much of 2018.

McHale said it’s time to not only replace the interlocking stones that make up the physical street — but also to reverse the overall decline of Sparks as a destination.

“I’m excited that, for the first time in many years, there’s an actual interest and effort … about seeing what the street can look like in the 21st century,” said McHale, who also leads the mall authority — basically the superintendent of the street.

He said there were 165 businesses on Sparks Street in 1994, compared to 65 now.

Kevin McHale is the executive director of the Sparks Street BIA and mall authority. He says the downtown is not the shopping destination it was in 1967, before the city’s population shifted to the suburbs. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Good times — and not-so-good times

“It’s gone through some good times and some bad times,” said Mayor Jim Watson, who likened Sparks to “a linear town square” that’s five blocks long.

“I think it’s now the time to put all hands on deck to see what we can do to help attract more people to come to the site, to get more businesses to open on Sparks Street, and help revitalize this important part of our history.”

While the state of Sparks was “not great” about five years ago, Watson said such recent additions as upscale restaurant Riviera, Canadian pub chain Bier Markt and the Winners department store have helped.

So will the city’s upcoming light rail line opening a block away, he added.

Still, the fact the federal government is the landlord for so much of the north side of the street is a challenge, Watson said.

That’s because the government tends to favour short-term leases, he said, which offers it flexibility to use those spaces itself.

The city says Sparks Street needs changes to draw people on evenings, weekends…

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