It took a while, but the future of the Grand Parade has been decided. The proposals are in , their relative merits have been weighed by the city, and the winning bid has been selected—well, almost.
HRM’s urban design project manager Andy Fillmore says that the bid selection team has made a final decision about the public square, but the plan still needs formal approval before it can go public. The HRM’s chief administrative officer Dan English is still reviewing the winning proposal. Once approved, the project will continue with a six-month deadline for completion.
“We’ve made a selection and submitted a report to the CAO which has to be approved and signed by him before it becomes public information,” says Fillmore. “Ideally we wanted to be able to announce it by the 21st, but it just wasn’t possible.”
Fillmore estimates that final approval should come some time this week.
In the meantime, downtown business owners are waiting to find out exactly what will become of their public square neighbour. For shops and restaurants directly adjacent to the Grand Parade, any new development has a potential effect on business.
On Argyle Street, The Five Fishermen restaurant has windows overlooking the Parade square. Manager Gary MacDonald says that the occasional special events that currently take place on the Grand Parade—like the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony or the annual New Year’s Eve celebration—have a positive influence, and that more public events would be a good thing for the community.
“Whenever there’s a performance or an event in the Grand Parade, it feels good in the area. You see more tourists dropping by,” he says. “I can’t see the city or anybody else wanting to do anything in that area except something that is public friendly, and if we could have an area for performances and events that doesn’t impede the traffic or get interrupted by the traffic flow around here, that would be a big plus for the downtown community.”
On the Barrington Street side of the space, shop owners also see potential benefits in Grand Parade renewal—more pedestrian traffic and more public events could lure more customers to downtown shopping.
Susan Hill is clothing manager at Hilltribe, a boutique located directly across the street from the Grand Parade. She says downtown retailers could always use a boost in business.
“Barrington needs all the help it can get, and anything to help revitalize downtown is a good thing,” she says. “It’s amazing the number of tourists who take pictures of the Grand Parade, the statue in the centre, the clock. We see tourists really attracted to the space, and it’d be nice if locals could use it too.”
Hill also disagrees with the claim that there isn’t enough parking in the downtown area, an argument that has been used to defend the use of the Grand Parade as a parking lot.
“There’s so much parking downtown now, people always complain that there isn’t, but there’s Scotia Square, there’s the parking garage , they’re all over the place.”
Erin Smith is also keeping a close eye on the Parade. She’s co-owner of the Barrington Street candy store Freak Lunchbox, as well as the relatively new clothing store Peepshow Girly Boutique. She believes that any new development ought to be used to enhance the city’s identity.
“Halifax should come to terms with the fact that it is becoming a big city. I think it’s exciting. As a city, we should have the confidence to use that space to really add to our personality,” says Smith. “I think the skating rink idea is appealing because it would keep that area pretty and maintain that green, outdoor kind of atmosphere. Whatever they do, they’ve got a unique chance to make it beautiful and amazing and a real public centre.”
According to Andy Fillmore, the city’s Urban Design office is excited, too. Fillmore says he would love to discuss the new plan—as soon as the information becomes public and he’s able to do so.
“It’s killing me! I’m excited and I want to talk about it, get the word out on the street,” he says. “But that should happen very soon.”