Revised - The future of the 2024 town square project in Whitehorse is up in the air.
During Monday evening’s standing committee meeting, council members spent about 30 minutes discussing a report from Stephanie Chevalier, the city’s economic development co-ordinator. She outlined two proposed locations for the project.
The first was to continue with the Main Street location used by the city last summer, although there was some negative reaction to the pilot project.
“It allows adjacent food and beverage businesses to participate in the operation, setting up large pop-up patios on the street. A major artwork could be created on the street again to beautify the area,” Chevalier told council.
“The Main Street location would reduce downtown parking by 34 spaces (30 in the closed area and four turned into accessible parking). It requires significant work for municipal engineering and operations crews to close the area and review its traffic management plan,” Chevalier added.
“This would include solutions to compensate the loss of the traffic light between Main Street and Second Avenue, which generated traffic flow disruption last year.
“Finally, this option received very little support from adjacent businesses and market vendors during the engagement process in December 2023.”
The second proposed location is along the riverfront.
“(This) is primarily located between the Yukon River and Front Street, from the Roundhouse building in the north to The Old Fire Hall building in the south,” Chevalier said.
“The location could include the temporary closure of Front Street between Main Street and Steele Street for specific events (two to three events over event period), regulated by the Special Events Road Closure Bylaw (events lasting a maximum of one week).
“This option has been considered as the second-best option by residents, and the best option by businesses in the exit survey,” Chevalier said.
“This location was the preferred location among stakeholders participating in December 2023’s engagement process.”
This choice would require less work from municipal departments, Chevalier said, as it doesn’t include an extended street closure and would not have the same issues with parking, traffic flow and Whitehorse Fire Department response, as in 2023.
“Businesses on adjacent streets would still have the option to set up pop-up patios regulated by the Lease, Encroachment and Property Use Policy. As most activities would take place on the riverfront and wharf, little to no parking spaces would be affected by the town square in this location.
“Temporary closures of a portion of Front Street for special events would result in the short-term loss of up to 17 two-hour metred parking stalls,” Chevalier said.
“Should council choose the riverfront for the 2024 town square location, it would provide an opportunity for the city to evaluate it against Main Street to and further inform a decision on a town square location for 2025, should council wish to continue the project.”
Council members talked the issue ’round and ’round without coming to any definitive decision.
Several indicated they had somewhat of a preference for the Main Street location.
Coun. Ted Laking, who brain-stormed the town square idea in 2023, said his vision includes establishing something like Vancouver’s Granville Island public market.
He temporized between the suggested locations, wondering if there isn’t a compromise solution between the competing concepts.
Coun. Michelle Friesen emphasized the importance of engaging the local First Nations governments on the issue, especially the riverfront locations, which is very important to the culture of the Indigenous peoples.
She noted the city would have to be careful of what date it chose to open the market.
Chevalier said the square would be open for approximately two months, with June 21 and Canada Day as potential opening dates.
She also asked Chevalier whether this is to be a “reconciliation” project. Chevalier said she’s in regular consultation with the local First Nations.
Coun. Kirk Cameron questioned Chevalier on the budget for the project, which would rely on $105,000 from city coffers, with the remainder coming from external sources.
He received somewhat contradictory answers from Chevalier and Mike Gau, the director of development services.
Chevalier suggested the project could be pared down to the $105,000 figure, while Gau said external funding would be required.
That matter was not clarified.