Mixing it up in the Market

Mark Brownlee
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Panhandling and prostitution complaints hit nerve, but city to focus on diversifying retail amenities

There’s a gap between what the ByWard Market is and what Mathieu Fleury, the city councillor for the area, wants it to become.

Phil Waserman is the owner of the Courtyard Restaurant.

For many, the Market is characterized by panhandlers, bar-hoppers and university students out for a wild night on the town. Mr. Fleury said he’s well aware of the issues but sees no reason why families and tourists can’t frequent the area outside of the “rowdiness” that takes place on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening.

“The rest of the time, I’d say it’s friendly to everyone so I don’t know that it’s in conflict,” said Mr. Fleury. “What I think is that we can really utilize and promote the behaviours we’d like and the activities that we’d like to make it what it should be.”

The area plays a big role as a tourist attraction in the city. It’s close to Parliament Hill and is frequently emphasized in travel manuals detailing the highlights of Canada’s capital.

But concerns about the Market continue to persist, as was the case last month when talk about the area’s “underbelly” touched a nerve with those on social media.

Mark Hayes, who works in the ByWard Market, wrote a blog post in mid-January complaining about his encounters with panhandlers and prostitutes in the area. The post generated 128 comments on the social networking site Reddit, many of which echoed similar concerns.

Mr. Fleury said there’s only so much the city and local business can do about those matters. What he’s hoping to do instead is emphasize the elements of which he’d like to see more.

He cited the example of not having enough places to eat breakfast in the area. If there were more morning eateries, he said, families would be willing to spend more of the day seeing what the area has to offer.

Phil Waserman, who owns the Courtyard Restaurant on George Street, said he doesn’t have too many problems with panhandlers but would like to see a greater mix of stores. He believes bars and clubs have taken on too much prominence in the area and need to be offset with more options.

“As you lose retail, there’s nothing left except restaurants and bars to draw people and that’s not in itself an attraction,” said Mr. Waserman.

“People come down to do other shopping and then make dining out or going to a club part of that experience, but if that’s the only experience you have I don’t think that bodes well for the future.”

Mr. Waserman said he’s noticed the number of retail options steadily decline over the past 15 years.

The city is exploring how to revitalize the area.

It invited a team of New York consultants to the area last fall to tour the Market and have a look at ways to bring back some of the fresh produce vendors that used to set up shop in the area. That report is due to be tabled in April.

SIDEBAR: Food retailer opening in March

Concern about the mix of retailers in the ByWard Market came to a head in the summer of 2011 when a long-standing food seller, the Fresh Fruit Co. at 51 York St., closed.

Vendors in the area worried the store’s demise was a sign that bars and restaurants were slowly taking over the area.

The city, which manages the property, conducted a search for a new tenant and eventually settled on Olive & Chili Foods & Family Inc.

The business is supposed to begin operations in March of this year. It will specialize in “fresh food prepared on the premises intended for at-home consumption,” according to a city statement e-mailed to OBJ.

Organizations: Fresh Fruit Co.

Geographic location: Parliament Hill, Canada, New York George Street MarchConcern

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Recent comments

  • Mathieu Fleury
    February 22, 2013 - 17:10

    This article brings to light issues in the Byward Market that the City of Ottawa and myself are aware of and continue to work toward mitigating and resolving. That said, to be perfectly clear, my comments were not fully captured in this article. When asked about uses of space in the Byward Market, I remarked that one way to change perceptions is to create many uses in the commercial spaces. For example, existing night clubs should be open during the day as an alternative use (breakfast places, retail, etc) that will draw in desirable behaviour (tourism and business), while discouraging undesirable activity and inactive store fronts. Although economic development and social services directly impact one another, it is important to understand that they also work independently. We need to attract businesses that encourage diversity in the Byward Market. We must recognize, however, that existing businesses, although maybe not preferred, have a legal right to continue to operate. Social impacts on the other hand (poverty, addictions, mental health), identified in Mark’s initial blog and in this article, reflect a city wide reality. We as a community can do and must do better. Enforcement is not the only approach. These social issues are not simple to resolve, because they are the result of a combination of multiple factors that need to be addressed on number of levels (housing, treatment, employment, etc). In terms of safety concerns, incidents are unfortunate and happen far too often; however, please know that there are many active organizations doing work (BIAs, resident associations, social services, etc), but there is always room for improvement. Although it is important to reflect and identify problems, it is also important for community and business leaders to also contribute to finding realistic solutions to these social issues and help bring business diversity to the Market.

  • Mark Hayes
    February 22, 2013 - 14:47

    Mark Hayes here, guy who wrote the blog article that kicked the hornets nest of comments last month. Our councillors only solution is to focus on the positive things we can do.... like open more breakfast locations? That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. Here are some things you can do: -Get rid of that cheque cashing place at the corner of York and Dalhousie. That is PRIME real estate and I can't for the life of me understand how a cheque cashing / pay day loan establishment was allowed to open shop in the heart of Ottawa's tourist center. -How long has that little fruit market remained vacant? Again, prime real-estate, owned by the city I believe, and there's been paper on the windows for over a year now. If you can't find a good new tenant, why not open it up to crafters to sell goods? Or house a pop-up shop? -Increase the amount of police foot / bike patrol, and tell the police to stop walking by homeless people drinking on the sidewalk and actually do something about them. -Consider relocating one or more of the shelters that are in the ByWard market. 5 in such a small geographical location is nuts. Everyone knows that's too many. -Ask McDonalds on Rideau to hire a private security guard again - or at least late at night. That place is sketchy and at times dangerous. They had one for a couple years but since their renovation I haven't seen a guard on duty. Those are just a few solutions I came up with at the top of my head. Do you really think opening up another breakfast spot (on top of the ones we already have: Coras, Zak's, Bagel place in the market building..etc..) will address any of the concerns I brought up in my original blog post????

  • Paul O
    February 21, 2013 - 17:08

    "If there were more morning eateries, he said, families would be willing to spend more of the day seeing what the area has to offer." That's just not how business works. If there were an overwhelming demand for more breakfast places, they would open and be profitable. That Ottawa City Council has destroyed the rich diversity that the Market area used to offer is beyond dispute. That they still demonstrate no comprehension of how businesses operate is beyond shameful.