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Downtown plaza will shine best at night (6 images)

Ward 1 Coun. Paul Christian wasn't just excited by the plaza design. He was 'really, really' excited

By day, Sault Ste. Marie's downtown civic plaza will be impressive.

But the real magic will happen at night, according to design concepts made public this week.

"This is my hometown, so I know how transformational it's going to be for this city," said Colin Berman, landscape architect and principal with Toronto-based design and planning consultant Brook McIlroy.

Berman briefed Mayor Provenzano and city councillors on a proposed interactive lighting system with sensors activating vibrant colours and textures in response to the movement of people within the plaza.

"We're working with a fantastic lighting designer called Mulvey & Banani," Berman said.

"A big part of their practice is working with visual artists. We are treating our relationship with them as a visual arts relationship."

"It's dark really early during the winter months. When most people go down there to skate after school or after work, that's going to be the experience that they'll have with the site. I think it's going to be a really amazing and majestic part of the winter experience," Berman said. 

"Lighting will play a very important role in this project. Our lighting designers have developed a layered strategy to light the plaza."

Berman said the the first layer will be general illumination light, provided from pole-mounted lights, facade lighting and step lamps at ramps.

"This light ensures you can see where you are going at night, and feel safe."

The second layer of light will be designed to promote audience engagement.

"Theatrical lighting will illuminate the skating riink and stage area," Berman says.

"Textures and colour will create a majestic setting on the ice surface during winter events. An interactive area on the shade structure and amphitheatre steps will change based on how the plaza is used."

"As people move closer to the area, sensors will detect the proximity and trigger lighting effects. When people are far away from the area, a calm water effect will gently light the steps. As people approach the steps, the lighting effect will intensify to look like the rushing water over the St. Marys River rapids."

"There are many variations of how this interactive lighting can work. We will design the exact triggers and effects as the project progresses."

"I think this is something we can all be excited about," said Mayor Provenzano.

Indeed, some City Council members were beyond excited.

Ward 3 Coun. Donna Hilsinger gestured franticly as she tried to find words to express her euphoria.

Ward 1 Coun. Paul Christian wasn't just excited. He described himself as being "really, really" excited.

"This is such a great shot in the arm for the city. It's going to be a great source of pride. Not only is it going to be an event area, it's also going to be a gathering place," Christian said.

"Even when there's no programmed events, people are going to want to go there. There's going to be a vibrancy down there."

"I encourage the retailers in the area to start thinking about promoting their businesses through this area. There's going to be more foot traffic downtown. There's going to be more opportunity for restaurants."

Ward 5's Corey Gardi gushed: "It's the most exciting thing that's ever happened downtown. If you have a pulse in Sault Ste. Marie, you should be excited about this."

"My father's generation often speaks very glowingly of Queen Street when they were young. Everybody wants to get it back to whatever that was. I think this is the best shot that we have," Gardi said.

On Monday, City Council gave its unanimous blessing to early renderings of the new civic plaza design.

The city is approaching Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp. and FedNor to help pay for the multi-million-dollar project.

Local fundraising is also being planned.

A series of public consultations started on Thursday.

Further meetings are planned with the Downtown Association and local First Nations.

City staff are hoping building the new plaza can start in May, 2021 and be completed during the fourth quarter of that year.

If the pandemic allows, the downtown plaza will be used for community gatherings starting in the spring of 2022.

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David Helwig

About the Author: David Helwig

David Helwig's journalism career spans seven decades beginning in the 1960s. His work has been recognized with national and international awards.
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