Ottawa council approves $129M ByWard Market revitalization plan

A view down Clarence Street should the ByWard Market Public Realm Plan, approved Wednesday by Ottawa city council, come to fruition. City of Ottawa

Ottawa city council unanimously supported a proposed $129.1-million plan to rejuvenate the ByWard Market, though any transformation will require funding commitments from higher levels of government.

Council approved the plan, which could see the redevelopment of the parking garage at 70 Clarence St. and new pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, at its first meeting of 2021 on Wednesday.

Among the “big moves” proposed in the ByWard Market Public Realm Plan are the introduction of a new pedestrian spine along William Street, wider sidewalks, a new “destination building” and civic square, enhanced greenery and flexible public spaces for events. The plan also includes new public washroom facilities as part of the destination building.

A winter scene along York Street in the proposal for a revitalized ByWard Market. City of Ottawa
The proposed York Street Flex Plaza, as seen in the ByWard Market Public Realm Plan. City of Ottawa

The price tag attached to the plan is divided into a dozen total projects and will require funding support from higher levels of government, city staff said.

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But city council’s approval of the plan was a necessary first step to attract that investment, said Court Curry, a member of the city’s urban design team.

Some councillors raised concerns about calling on federal and provincial support focused only on the core, when infrastructure gaps still exist in wards across Ottawa.

But others on council pointed to the ByWard Market’s role as a tourism draw in the nation’s capital as reason enough to give the historic ‘hood a boost.

“If you kill your core, you kill your city,” Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans said.

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Mayor Jim Watson also positioned the ByWard Market as a city asset, not just a downtown asset.

He also suggested the opportunity to redevelop the current site of the parking garage could attract money from the private sector.

“This is a large request for dollars but this is the first step along the journey,” he said, noting that any municipal dollars are likely to be spread out over multiple annual budgets.

In his 2021 State of the City address, Watson also said he plans to chair a new organizing committee in preparation for celebrations of the ByWard Market’s 200-year anniversary in 2027.

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While there are no guarantees or firm timelines on when the revitalized ByWard Market will be complete, Watson said the hope is to have the market “in its best shape possible” for the bicentennial.

The mayor pitched the anniversary as a chance to repeat the city’s success with the Canada 150 celebrations in 2017, which brought millions of visitors and tourism dollars to the city.

He even teased the possibility of a repeat performance from La Machine, which brought enormous living sculptures to the streets of the capital.

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