Council voted in favour Monday on moving ahead with priority items in the redevelopment of the western part of the Sault’s downtown core, known as the Canal District.
In February, Council approved $300,000 towards the Downtown Development Initiative, and, on Friday, the Sault received $875,000 from the provincial Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC) for downtown improvement.
The city is also hoping for federal funding for the Canal District plan.
The Canal District plan, approved by Council in August 2013, comprises the multi-purpose Destination North, which is becoming a reality in soft, incremental steps through the efforts of Mill Square’s owners, the Gateway Site, the OLG Casino Site and the Gore Street commercial area.
A $40,000 report prepared by Greenberg Consultants, open houses and consultation with stakeholders have all been done.
A report to council from the city’s engineering and planning department, while recognizing revitalization of the district is an expensive and difficult task because of the run-down condition of certain areas, is now recommending council move ahead with first steps, depending on finalization of more funding applications.
Those first steps are Gore Street streetscape improvements (such as paving, furnishings, landscaping and lighting, with possible additional streetscape improvements to the western part of Queen Street between Gore and Dennis), a Huron Street parkette and streetscaping (to make a more attractive entry point for visitors coming off the International Bridge into the Sault), establishment of a “signature green space” on the eastern half of the Gateway Site (with a funding application for an environmental assessment of the site) and Bay Street streetscaping (narrowing of vehicular lanes from four lanes to three, with space for bicycle lanes and landscaped boulevards).
Longer term points of the plan, outlined in the city staff report, are Queen Street furnishings, construction of “spokes” to better connect the downtown core with the Hub Trail, a Huron Street roundabout for better flow of vehicular traffic and extension of Bay Street westward to James Street.
Because Algoma University has established a student residence in the downtown, and because the Algoma Conservatory of Music will soon move into Mill Square, council also voted to encourage and assist Algoma University and Sault College to expand their profiles in the downtown area in order to revitalize the district with young people.
As for long-awaited development of the Gateway site, Don McConnell, planning director, said development of a park at the east end of the site may encourage developers to build on the rest of the property.
“It’s a great plan,” said Terry Sheehan, ward two councillor, expressing enthusiasm for planned developments at Mill Square and the new bridge plaza.
Frank Fata, ward four councillor, was less enthusiastic.
Fata said the improvements to the Canal District may beautify the area but saw it as an example of relying on senior levels of government funding for a project that will not necessarily add to the city’s tax base.
Steve Butland, ward one councillor, said the planning department’s report was “very comprehensive…extremely well laid out.”
Butland agreed the Canal District may not necessarily add to the city’s tax base, but that it would improve the appearance of the area, especially near the International Bridge.