City council OKs $129M proposal to revitalize ByWard Market

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

City council gave a unanimous thumbs-up Wednesday to a $129-million plan to revitalize the ByWard Market that would see pedestrian plazas set up along major streets and a “destination building” replace the Clarence Street parking garage.

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 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. 

The motion includes funding for various studies and a national design competition for the Rideau-Sussex portion of the project, but the city says it will need millions in additional money from other levels of government. 

Still, councillors voiced their full support for the proposal on Wednesday, arguing that a thriving Market will pay dividends for the entire community.

“It is a front-facing look at the City of Ottawa,” Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans said. “If you kill your core, you kill your city.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Jim Watson also zeroed in on Market in his annual state of the city address.

La Machine
Mayor Jim Watson is suggesting the city could bring back La Machine for the ByWard Market's 200th anniversary in 2027. File photo

Watson said he will chair an organizing committee that will plan a celebration of the Market’s 200th anniversary in 2027, even floating the possibility of bringing the fire-breathing mechanical dragons of La Machine ​– the production that wowed crowds at Ottawa’s Canada 150 festivities three years ago ​– back for another go-round.

In other moves Wednesday, council approved extending the temporary mandatory mask bylaw to April 29. The bylaw requires face coverings to be worn in all enclosed public spaces, on all forms of public transit and in the common areas of condos and apartment buildings as a means of trying to curb the spread of COVID-19.

New restrictions on big-box stores sought

In addition, council approved a motion calling on the mayor to ask the province to let small businesses reopen under the same rules as big-box stores. 

Under the current stay-at-home order, Walmart, Costco and other big-box retailers are allowed to remain open because they sell essential items such as groceries, but they are also permitted to sell other merchandise such as clothes and electronics. 

Critics say that’s unfair to smaller retailers who’ve been ordered to shut their doors to combat the recent spike in COVID-19 infections. Councillors want a level playing field and say if the province won’t allow small retailers to reopen, then it should restrict in-person sales at big-box stores to essential items.