‘What this plan speaks to is optimism:’ revamped Commercial St. in downtown Nanaimo envisioned | NanaimoNewsNOW

Commercial St. & Diana Krall Plaza Upgrades
The crown jewel of the plan is a complete remodel of Commercial St. through the heart of downtown Nanaimo.

At its core would be a redesign of the street layout, retaining one lane of traffic in each direction but removing curbs and placing extra emphasis on non-vehicular movements through the space.

Some current parking spaces would be transitioned into flex areas for use as patio space, as well as deliveries for businesses.

The new road layout would merge into an expanded Diana Krall Plaza and serve as a central events space by removing barriers and featuring a stage space for live music and entertainment.

Bastion St. and Pride crosswalk
A raised crosswalk remains a priority for the Bastion St. and Commercial St. intersection, home of the city’s pride crosswalk.

An updated flag, including transgender, two-spirit and other gender identities, would adorn the intersection which is slated to remain as a four way stop intersection after a pilot project disabled the traffic lights in 2020.

Church St. and Dallas Square Park
The plan proposes entirely removing the former turning lane from Front St. onto Church St. and folding in the area to an expanded Cenotaph site and water feature.

Adjustments to the Cenotaph site drew concerns from several councillors, worried about impacts to Remembrance Day services and the inherit meaning behind the site.

City general manager of development services Dale Lindsay said these ideas are a reflection of initial chats with Royal Canadian Legion representatives, with more discussions to follow.

“We were able to reach out to them recently and have a conversation with them. What we have here is a concept…Dallas Square would be one of the last parts done and any work there is done with full consultation in asking them what they want to do.”

Victoria Cres. and the transit exchange
The major change for the area includes a re-routing of an expansive and often problematic intersection between Commercial St., Wallace St., Albert St. and Victoria Cres.

The plan envisages breaking the intersection into two distinct sections.

Work would be done to complement development at the former Jean Burns building site, renamed ‘The Hub’ as well as the neighboring A&B Sound proposed project.

Areas around the intersection would feature expanded sidewalks and public square space to again prioritize pedestrian safety.

A transit hub, initially pitched for the Jean Burns building site, is slotted further south on Terminal Ave. in the updated plan, something which continues to disappoint local residents.

Kevan Shaw, president of the Victoria Crescent Association, told councilors the idea was a non-starter.

“We do not want a transit exchange that will be a draw for public disorder (and) crime. We have enough downtown in our area already…assaults, robberies, fires. The porta-potties that were placed in the very area you are looking at were set on fire, new ones put back then they were burnt to the ground.”

Shaw cited similar exchanges in Langford, Kelowna and Surrey which have seen considerable issues.

“Metro Vancouver has its own transit police because of crime in that system, downtown Kelowna’s Queensway exchange which Nanaimo is basing its exchange on has had many assaults and a stabbing and murder right by it.”

He said his opposition to a transit exchange would be much less, if downtown Nanaimo wasn’t already experiencing many of the issues such a facility can bring.

Phased approach
Work is scheduled to be done in four main phases, beginning on the southwest side of Terminal Ave. and the troublesome Victoria Cres. intersection. Simultaneous work would also see the raising of the Bastion St. and Commercial St. crosswalk.

Construction is expected to begin in 2023 or 2024.

Upgrades to Diana Krall Plaza and the northern half of Commercial St. would be in a second round of work beginning in 2024 followed by the south end of Commercial St. to Terminal Ave. and finally Dallas Square to be completed by 2027.

A fifth phase would see some improvements to Skinner St., near Diana Krall Plaza, Bastion St. and Wharf St. near their intersections with Commercial St.

Nanaimo councilors have so far approved capital funding for phase one of upgrades, to a total of between $3 million and $3.7 million. The total capital cost of the project at this point is pegged at between $11.8 million and $14.2 million.

However, operational costs have yet to be factored in, leaving some questions and concerns.

“It’s great to have all these capital costs, but without an operating budget I find it very difficult to vote for something because operating costs will have a direct impact on taxation and we’ve seen taxation go up a lot this year,” coun. Sheryl Armstrong said.

It was a sentiment echoed by others Monday night.

“There’s certainly a lot in this I like very much, it’s a very exciting plan, but like many of these plans it’s very easy to look at pretty pictures and say ‘oh that’s going to be great’,” coun. Ian Thorpe added. “Without knowing…the maintenance costs, and so on I do have some concerns over the design elements.”

The next steps
No additional funding was committed on Monday night, however with Council’s unanimous endorsement of the vision, detailed design and drawings can continue for phase one of the project.

Specific costings and timelines are expected back to Council at a later date with each phase to be voted on and financed separately.

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