By Jessica Lovell
Concerns about a proposed plan to turn St. George’s Square into a centralized area with a traffic circle running around the perimeter were front and centre at a public open house at city hall on Tuesday night.
It’s “by no means the final or fixed plan,” Anne McIlroy of Brook McIlroy urban designers told the crowd of about 50 people who came out to hear a presentation on the plan.
But the plan to do away with the traditional intersection in favour of a large public square “seemed to be the one that worked best,” she said.
Members of the public seemed less than convinced, raising issues about everything from the impact on downtown businesses to traffic flow to how the centre space will be used.
The plan follows “the notion that the square can be activated in a variety of ways,” McIlroy said.
She showed an image of the square with a single lane roadway running around the outside. The majority of the open space was consolidated in the centre in an area with trees lining the roadway, some small grassy areas with stylized benches and a shade structure to one side.
That structure could house washrooms – a feature that had been deemed important to the programming of the space – as well as a maintenance building, where temporary seating could be stored for events, and possibly even a concession stand, McIlroy said.Apart from a cross marked out in paving stones on the ground – which McIlroy said alludes to the area’s history as the one-time home of St. George’s church – the centre of the square is notably empty.
“Is there a reason that there’s nothing in the centre?” one member of the public wanted to know. Other city streets lead to significant monuments or buildings, he said.
“This design doesn’t preclude something like that happening,” McIlroy answered.
But she also pointed out that the sight lines of the streets leading into the square – Quebec, Wyndham and Douglas streets – don’t converge at the centre of the square, but off to one side.
Local mayoral candidate Joseph St. Denis said the space seemed like it would be nice enough in the summer months, but wondered “what’s going to draw people when it’s not beautiful weather?”
“One of the things I thought would be lovely . . . It could be the location for the city’s Christmas tree,” said McIlroy. She also suggested it might be a spot for a seasonal market.
But the lack of off-season attraction wasn’t St. Denis’s only concern. He also wanted to know what the maintenance costs, including snow-removal costs might be.
He didn’t get an answer, but the point was noted.
“As we go to council we will make sure they’re aware of what the maintenance implications will be,” said City of Guelph senior urban designer David de Groot.
Cost of the overall project was a concern raised by another member of the public.
The city has already begun budgeting for the work, de Groot answered. When pushed for specific numbers, he said reconstruction of Wyndham Street is expected to cost $18.5 million, plus another $6 million to $6.5 million for St. George’s Square.
Downtown Guelph Business Association executive director Marty Williams pointed out that this investment is not simply an investment in the cosmetics of downtown.
“This is coming about because there’s major infrastructure work to be done on the street,” he said.
Ward 2 council candidate Sian Matwey was concerned about the possible cost to business owners in the downtown. “Is this going to be a Carden Street disaster where people are losing their businesses?” she asked.
De Groot admitted the construction would cause some disruption, but said Carden Street was different because business owners had to endure not only street reconstruction, but also the construction of city hall. “There’s not that sort of perfect storm like there was on Carden,” he said of the Wyndham Street plan.
This project could be expected to take two construction seasons, he said. How it would be rolled out has not yet been determined.
Other members of the public wanted to know about how the design for the square would affect traffic, both to the downtown and to the businesses.
The design is one that will require cars to slow down, but it is engineered to allow buses to continue to move through the square, McIlroy said. For pedestrians, two or three signalled crossing areas will be part of the design, but the single lane of traffic may also be one that people feel comfortable crossing without signals, de Groot said.
Traffic in the downtown will likely increase as time goes by, but habits of drivers may not change.
Currently, people who pass through the downtown tend to use Woolwich or Norfolk streets, while people coming to the downtown use Wyndham, said McIlroy.
“People who don’t want to come there as a destination are going to find other ways to get through town,” she said.
By Jessica Lovell