A change of location is being considered for the 2024 Whitehorse town square.
The town square was piloted in 2023 with the closure of the block of Main Street between Front Street and Second Avenue to vehicle traffic. The closed street was used to host food trucks, shaded seating, live music and an intermittent vendors market.
In the wake of the 2023 event, which ran from mid-June to early September, complaints were lodged about its effects on businesses in the area, especially in Horwoods Mall. The loss of parking in the area and a lacking city staff presence during the market were also cited as concerns.
Whitehorse city council received information on possibilities for the location of this summer’s town square at its Feb. 5 standing committees meeting. Council will vote on which location to endorse at a future meeting.
Stephanie Chevalier, who works in the city’s economic development arm, presented council with possibilities for the 2024 town square. The options presented are putting it on Main Street like last year with a street closure, on the riverfront between Wood Street and Elliott Street with only intermittent street closure or to not proceed with the town square project at all.
Exit surveys about the 2023 town square project were conducted with both the public and business owners. The report to council states that Main Street was the most popular location among the general public with 57 per cent of survey respondents in favour compared to 49 per cent for the riverfront. The business community slightly favoured the waterfront with 53 per cent approval compared to 50 per cent for Main Street. The report notes that adjacent businesses and those that set up outdoor vendor booths last year expressed very little support for this option.
City administration recommends that council select the riverfront location rather than Main Street. The report to council states that the riverfront is preferable because it addresses concerns that were raised about the disruption to local businesses and vendors who set up outdoor booths feeling unwelcome. Intermittent closure of Front Street between Main Street and Steele Street for a temporary outdoor market was supported by businesses in the area so long as it occurred outside their normal hours.
Also considered were parking and accessibility as the Main Street closure last year removed 34 spaces from available parking downtown including some accessible spaces that had to be temporarily relocated outside the closed street. The report to council states that the riverfront option would result in no parking loss most of the time and the loss of 17 stalls between Main and Steele streets during special events.
Council heard that if the Main Street location is not selected the Dirty Northern and Belly of the Bison restaurants will still be able to set up on-street patios across the sidewalk from their entrances but the Dirty Northern’s will have to be smaller than last year and Belly of the Bison will have to be shifted away from the stop sign.
$180,000 has been budgeted for the 2024 town square project to be funded with $105,000 from city reserves. The city is seeking external funding to pay for the remaining $75,000. The report specifies that no city money will be spent on the project until a funding agreement is reached. A location must be selected before the project can be funded.
Discussion dealt with the possibility of a one-lane closure of Main Street, efforts that would be taken to keep the area clean and ways to incorporate First Nations culture into the project.
Contact Jim Elliot at firstname.lastname@example.org