Two downtown Halifax streets are inching closer towards a year-round patio season.
The Argyle and Grafton Shared Streetscape project is nearing the end of a 21-week construction period, a municipal endeavour that Jacob Ritchie says the idea for first began over two decades ago when small businesses were pressing the city for more patio options.
“We’ll see patios that are established year round and they’re going to be there, so you know you’ve got a great space to go if you want to eat outdoors. If we get some temperate weather in the fall, like we did this year, you know that’s going to be available,” Ritchie, Halifax’s urban design program manager said.
“This project really started when the businesses decided in the 90s that they wanted some outdoor patio space and we’ve been doing 20 years of trials. Every year, they build these little wooden sidewalks and finally, we stepped up a couple years ago and said, let’s build this permanently and make this street a place where people can have that outdoor life,” he said.
The streets are being transformed into an urban plaza, that includes a wide range of changes and additions, including the separation of the streets into two zones.
One zone is for pedestrians only, the other zone is for all modes of transportation and the zones are distinguished by a ‘rumble strip.’
“We call it the rumble strip, or the tactile strip more technically, that lets us separate pedestrians from vehicles to make sure people stay safe,” Ritchie said.
The short-term pain of construction has led to headaches for some small businesses like Philip Holman’s, World Tea House.
“The impact for here was pretty harsh this summer, we almost went out of business,” he said.
Holman adds if it wasn’t for community support, he feels his shop wouldn’t have survived the 21-week construction period that led to him modifying his store hours due to a lack of foot traffic.
“It was the Halifax community and other events that really pulled us through. We had a cash mob here that generated a lot of revenue for us and a couple external events, we would not have survived,” he said.
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Ritchie says the city ‘sympathizes’ with construction concerns and hopes the completed project will help ‘bring small businesses to life.’
“We’ve made it easier for small businesses to make great things happen on Grafton Street and on Argyle Street and we’ve made it beautiful by providing street trees that are going to live longer. We’ve provided all the high-quality materials, lots of spaces to sit,” he said.
Holman is very much looking forward to the project finally being finished.
The grand opening of the urban plaza is this Saturday.