FLORA Community WEB:
Russell McOrmond
FLORA Community WEB
134 Sparks St., Suite 200
Ottawa, ON K1P 5B6

Email: Russell@Flora.org
Office: (613) 231-6075
Vmail: (613) 235-7584
FAX: (613) 230-1258
WEB: http://www.flora.org/

September 30, 1997

Dear Councillors,

Copies to: Karen Jodoin, V.P.O., Ottawa Center and East, Bank of Nova Scotia
Ken Dale, Executive direcor of the Sparks St. Mall.

I am writing in regards to 168-182 Sparks St., both as a resident within walking distance of the downtown area (Strathcona Heights) and as a proprietor of an Internet Consulting business located at 134 Sparks St.

In what started for me to be a simple question to the Land Development Branch (1) of the city of Ottawa last summer has turned out to be much more controversial than I thought. A sign on the building posted notice to the public of a proposed rezoning of the area to establish what is being referred to as a "temporary" parking area. I then later heard about the heritage designation.

Since my main reason for locating my business on Sparks St. was because of it's pedestrian nature, something I strongly believe to be important to susceptibility both for businesses and for residents of the area, it was the establishment of the parking area that was of interest and not the heritage designation.

As a business person operating on Sparks St., I very much do not agree with the idea that all the businesses desire increased parking. I am a strong believer that parking displaces customers, changing the nature of the customer that one has, rather than the common assumption that it will increase actual numbers of customers. In a downtown area that has mixed uses where retail, offices, and residential are co-located, parking is neither a necessity nor desirable. The walkability of an area is very much effected by the number of private automobiles that are used in an area. Businesses that service a walkable area can have lower advertising costs (Targeting people who walk is cheaper than people who drive), lowered costs since one does not have to pay for (Or subsidize) the parking, and more loyal customers which will not wonder half way across the city to save a couple dollars.

A walk across the street and a conversation with Ken Dale (Executive Director of the Sparks Street Mall) gave me a different impression than I had before. This is not someone intent on destroying the nature of Sparks St. with an increase in private automobile use surrounding the mall, but rather someone with a vested interest in seeing the Mall do well. He spoke very highly of mixed use buildings possibly mixing residential, commercial and retail in a very pleasant neighborhood, wistfully referring to the Seinfeild Show and how everything seems to be in one place.

The issue as I have been able to research is fairly simple. The Bank of Nova Scotia acquired the land due to the bankruptcy of a developer. Not being a developer, their interest is going to be to sell this land to the highest bidder and have this other organization develop the land. In order to sell this land they want to both make the land somehow pay for itself in the short term while at the same time making the land more attractive to a potential buyer. The demolishing of the building is seen as a way to make the land more attractive, similar to one painting a home and cleaning up the yard before trying to sell.

A parking lot was chosen as being the short term solution to this problem and was to address both issues. While at first glance this might seem like the right thing to do, I am not sure if this is going to serve their needs.

I believe that Sparks St. is very unique in the downtown core for how much further along it is in the transition from primarily automobile to pedestrian traffic. This Street, if managed well, can increase itself as a focus for tourist and other primarily pedestrian based customers for the various businesses on the Mall. Further parking in the area can change this nature, and thus jeopardize the businesses that are currently located in the area. Will the Scotiabank make more money selling to a developer who is going to build on an attractive and very vibrant pedestrian mall, or will it make more money selling to a developer where the land is indistinguishable from the other streets in the area?

The more I think about it, the less I see the temporary rezoning to be in the best interest of anyone, especially not the Bank of Nova Scotia.

What are the alternatives? In reading the various letters from other citizens, and comments from various councillors, a number of options come forward.

  1. In a letter to Peter C. Godsoe, Chairman and CEO of the Bank of Nova Scotia, David Gladstone suggests that the bank offer this location temporarily to a cultural group (3). This could become a very good Public Relations boost for the bank which has been the target of a number of comments recently in regards to it's high profit announcements.

  2. In a similar good PR suggestion the land could be temporarily turned into a park. While the financial benefits of the park may not be obvious, it seems to me that this would be a small price to pay for the good PR that Scotiabank would receive from this. Rather than being seen as bad corporate citizens risking the future of a potentially very important district in the Nations Capital, they would be seen as an organization willing to invest in the future of this area. If Scotiabank tears down a building some have called a heritage building and only replaces it with a parking lot, even in the short term, the PR outcome from this will be extremely negative.

    When speaking to to Councillor Elizabeth Arnold about this issue she mentioned that there is a precedent for similar parks. Constitution Square, located near Canadian Tire, was another area temporarily made into a park rather than a parking-lot. I have personally seen this area being used for cultural events including having live bands. This area has greatly enhanced the surroundings, something that would be a great addition to Sparks St.

Two decisions seem to be involved in making the outcome of all of this positive for the area. The first decision would be made by the City Councillors to not change the zoning of the area to allow for increased surface parking. Decisions such as this should not be taken lightly due to the fact that such parking would very much not be in support of the Official Plan for the city, nor the official plan for the Region which both indicate a desire to decrease private automobile use. The second decision would be made by the Bank of Nova Scotia to turn this negative demolition into a positive PR situation. Rather than pushing local governments to make unpopular decisions, they can themselves benefit from making what would quickly become a popular decision.

Yours Sincerely,

Russell McOrmond

References:

  1. http://news.flora.org/flora.afo/186 - Personal letter to the Land Development branch of the City of Ottawa.
  2. http://news.flora.org/flora.announce/23 - Press release for FLORA Community WEB moving to Sparks St.
  3. http://news.flora.org/ncf.ca.discussion-group/564 - Letter from David Gladstone to Peter C. Godsoe, Chairman and CEO, Bank of Nova Scotia.