Confederation Line will open up retail opportunities, Ottawa transit boss says

A rendering of Rideau Station once Ottawa's Confederation Line opens up.

Not even another delay in the launch of Ottawa’s $2.1-billion LRT system is enough to dampen the spirits of OC Transpo boss John Manconi when he talks about how the new line will benefit the local economy.

Manconi says the five-year project has already resulted in about $800 million worth of contracts for local suppliers of everything from scaffolding to heavy machinery used in the construction of the 12.5-kilometre Confederation Line as well as 20,000 person-years of employment.

But that’s just the beginning, he adds. Once the system launches ​– which is now expected to happen some time in the first quarter of 2019 ​– there will be decades of maintenance required to keep the trains, tracks and stations in good running order.

The consortium in charge of building the Confederation Line, the Rideau Transit Group, has a 30-year deal to look after the system that will be worth close to $3 billion. Much of that money will be funnelled back into the local economy, Manconi says.

“It’s not like it’s a short burst and then it’s over,” he adds. “It’s sustained over 30 years.”

Manconi notes that such direct spinoffs are only part of the long-term economic impact of light rail.

LRT will also open up new opportunities for businesses located on downtown streets such as Albert, Slater and Rideau that will no longer be clogged up with long lines of buses at rush hour, he explains.

“Hundreds of buses a day” will be pulled off those corridors, he says, allowing the streets to be revitalized with pedestrian- and cycling-friendly amenities such as wider sidewalks and dedicated bike lanes.

A rendering of St. Laurent Station.

Manconi predicts those changes will in turn make the downtown a livelier, easier-to-navigate district for shoppers, while bars and restaurants will have room to set up outdoor patios that help draw more people to those streets.  

“(Businesses will) be able to use those spaces in an innovative way and really make it a dynamic asset to the core of our city,” Manconi says.

Pop-up shops?

In addition, local retailers will have a chance to set up operations at four stations on the Confederation Line ​– Tunney’s Pasture, Rideau, Hurdman and Blair. The city recently tendered a request for a property manager to oversee the hunt for appropriate businesses to fill one spot in each of the stations.

Manconi says the city is open to just about any type of retail operations in the stations, as long as they are “tasteful” and not in an enclosed space.

“We’re trying to keep (the criteria) as broad as possible and let the private sector figure out what will work in a station where people are literally walking through at a very quick pace,” he explains, noting that tens of thousands of transit users are expected to circulate through busy stations such as Rideau and Hurdman every hour during peak periods.

“It’s a tricky spot because there’s a lot of quick movements in there. It’s not like people are lingering. We think the private sector can better respond to what kind of market do we want to put in there rather than just having a traditional kind of space in there.”

While only one permanent business will be allowed at each of the four stations, Manconi says the city is open to providing space for pop-up stores and even buskers. Although only four stations will feature retail stores in the early going, that number could increase down the road, he adds.

“Some of the stations just don’t lend themselves to (retail),” he says. “But things change in this industry. We’ve got a very open mind.”