City mulls $129M plan to revitalize ByWard Market with pedestrian plazas, new marquee building

York Street plaza
The York Street Flex Plaza would be the centrepiece of the new ByWard Market Public Realm Plan. Image courtesy the City of Ottawa

A $129-million plan that would see pedestrian plazas set up along major ByWard Market streets and a “destination building” replace the Clarence Street parking garage will go before a city committee on Tuesday.

The ByWard Market Public Realm Plan is the latest attempt to breathe new life into the historic downtown neighbourhood.

According to a city report, the latest proposal aims to be a “roadmap” for reimagining the Market as a more walkable, less traffic-congested neighbourhood.

“The vision set by the Public Realm Plan imagines a network of inspiring public places for pedestrians where residents and visitors will linger, relax, and explore this unique food market and heritage district,” says the staff report.

“A key goal of the Public Realm Plan is to shift the perception of the Market from a vehicular-oriented space to one where pedestrians come first.”

The plan calls for six “big moves” to reinvigorate the area’s streets and public spaces. Among them are proposals to create large “pedestrian promenades” on the north side of York, George and Clarence streets, build a permanent pedestrian corridor along William Street that links Clarence Street with the Rideau Centre and construct a new “destination building” and civic square on what is now the site of a municipal parking garage at 70 Clarence St. 

Economic recovery working group

Staff are also urging the city to create a working group that would recommend “more nuanced and targeted economic recovery initiatives” for businesses in the Market.

The group would include representatives from the city as well as Ottawa Markets, the not-for-profit entity that now manages the district, the ByWard Market BIA, the National Capital Commission and other organizations. 

The report says the plan would be financed through a mix of funding from various levels of government, public-private partnerships and “leveraging asset management funding where practicable.”

In comments attached to the report, Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury, whose ward includes the Market, says the plan won’t solve all the area’s problems but will lay the groundwork for a more family- and tourist-friendly neighbourhood.

“There is no doubt this aims to be a comprehensive plan that will leave no stone untouched in the ByWard Market area,” he says. “Most importantly, this plan establishes a vision and, moving forward, guiding principles.”

ByWard Market Square
ByWard Market Square would be closed to traffic in the summer under the new proposal. Image courtesy the City of Ottawa

The plan’s crown jewel would be a new “York Street Flex Plaza” that would stretch from Sussex Drive to ByWard Market Square. The report says the plaza would form part of a “grand promenade” linking Lowertown with the rest of the neighbourhood, framed by “tall arching trees” and incorporating “a beautiful, unifying paving pattern, public art, safe crosswalks (and) moveable seating.”

The report is recommending the city seek funding from other levels of government to launch a $1.5-million detailed design study for the York Street project. 

Staff also want the city to study the business case for redeveloping the municipal parking garage at 70 Clarence St. into a low-rise structure, but the plan stops short of proposing any specific uses for the property. To replace those 289 parking spaces and the loss of other curbside parking, the report proposes that the city partner with private developers to build new lots on properties near the Market.

City staff have spent two years drawing up the plan. According to the report, more than 2,300 people offered feedback during the consultation process, which also sought input from organizations such as the ByWard Market BIA, the Ottawa Board of Trade, Ottawa Tourism and the NCC.

A new plan to revitalize the Market has been near the top of council’s list of long-term priorities for the past several years. 

Pilot projects

The city owns the central market building at 55 ByWard Market Square, which is fully leased and home to about two dozen merchants, and the parking garage and retail space at 70 Clarence St. While hundreds of farmers and artisans are still licensed to sell their products in the Market, the number of licensed vendors who actually peddle goods there has been on the decline for years.

In 2018, Ottawa Markets took over the management of the ByWard and Parkdale Markets from the city in the hope that a private operator would draw more visitors to the site and bring a more entrepreneurial approach to livening up retail districts that had become tired. 

The city has since launched a series of pilot projects aimed at curbing vehicle traffic in the Market.

Last year, Ottawa Markets converted William Street between York and George streets into a pedestrian plaza, while the city closed curbside lanes on Clarence Street between Parent Avenue and Dalhousie Street to parking during the summer ​– moves it said drew a favourable reaction from residents.

Meanwhile, stretches of several major streets, including William Street, ByWard Market Square and York Street, were closed to vehicles this summer and fall.

According to the report, most of the Market’s core roads – including ByWard Market Square, Clarence Street, George Street and York Streets – would remain open to two-way traffic under the new plan. About seven and a half acres of city-owned space along Clarence, George, William and York streets that’s now dedicated to cars would be “reclaimed and assigned for pedestrian use.”

The city’s finance and economic development committee will consider the report at its meeting on Tuesday.