By Jessica Lovell
Downtown Guelph Business Association executive director Marty Williams says the ideas behind the city’s plan to make over St. George’s Square are positive, but show him some money.
“I think the ideas being put forward come from a good place,” said Williams of the plan that would re-jig the downtown intersection into a central square with a one-way road running around the outside.
The intention behind the plan is to create a more attractive and welcoming space that could become a destination for city residents. It is part of an overall effort to make the downtown a more vibrant place.
“There isn’t anything in the intention that anyone could quibble with,” said Williams.
But at the same time, he understands why many people aren’t sold on the proposed new layout for the square.
The activity in the square has changed somewhat since it ceased to be a transit hub for the city a couple of years ago. When the buses congregated in the square, it wasn’t necessary to come up with activities to attract people to the area, but that has changed, said Williams.
In addition, nearby Market Square – with its water feature in summer and skating rink in winter, and lots of additional programming organized by the city – has become solidified as a destination in the downtown.
“We’ve got a great public square that has this splash pad and skating rink,” said Williams. “Now St. George’s Square, without the buses, looks like the poor cousin.”
When there isn’t something going on in St. George’s Square, it is not a place that is heavily frequented by many people, he said.
“The current usage is, at times – times of the year and times of the day – pretty sparse,” Williams said.
And changing the layout alone will not be enough to convince people to come to the square.
But if people could see the square in its current layout begin to look like a more welcoming place, they might be convinced of how much better it could be with a new layout.
“It the activity court is full to bursting in most days in the nice weather, imagine what we could do with something bigger,” said Williams.
The plan to create a central square would allow for a bigger programming space by taking the space from the outer areas of the intersection and unifying it in the middle. The city’s renderings, which show things like food trucks, concerts and even parking in the central square help to give people an idea of the scale of the space, said Williams.
But the city also needs to show people why there might be a need for such an event space.
And this is where the money comes in.
Williams is hoping the city will invest some money into programming for the existing space before taking the steps to make over the square.
“I hope that they’ll come up with some money,” he said.
Currently, the Downtown Guelph Business Association is making efforts to animate the square with things like its Friday noon concerts and its Wednesday Farmers’ Market – both of which have been reasonably successful endeavours, said Williams.
“The look of it is something that enlivens the square,” Williams said of the market, explaining that having the vendors there makes the space more welcoming.
“We really want it to work and we think it’s a great space,” he said.
A report on the proposal for St. George’s Square, as well as the Downtown Streetscape Manual and the Built Form Standards, were to be presented today (Aug. 5) at a meeting of council’s planning, building, engineering and environment committee. More information on the project is available online at guelph.ca/placemaking.
By Jessica Lovell