Rainbow Bistro owner anticipates boost from ‘spill-off’ traffic at new ByWard Market music venue

Rainbow Bistro owner
Danny Sivyer, president of the Rainbow Bistro, is flanked by Ottawa businessmen John Jastremski (MDS Aero) on the left and Kevin Ford (Calian Group), both volunteer members of the volunteer organization that worked on saving the downtown live music venue. File photo

The owner of a well-known ByWard Market music venue that nearly shut its doors for good during the pandemic says he’s hoping a 2,000-seat concert hall that’s slated to open a few blocks away will trigger a live entertainment renaissance in the tourism hub.

Danny Sivyer, who opened The Rainbow Bistro on Murray Street in 1984, says the new facility that is expected to take over the former Chapters building on Rideau Street before the end of next year will likely generate “spill-off” foot traffic that could benefit businesses like his.

“We’re just a couple of blocks away, so that when their show ends at 11, there’s going to be a crowd of 2,000 people looking for more music, and they can wander down to The Rainbow,” Sivyer, whose daughter Stacie now runs the bar, told OBJ on Monday. “All we need is 150 to fill it.”

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Like many live music establishments that were forced to close up shop for long stretches during the COVID-19 crisis, The Rainbow had to fight tooth and nail to keep its head above water.

But the Ottawa community rallied around the venerable blues bar and saved it from extinction. 

A group of high-profile business leaders who also love live music, including Calian boss Kevin Ford, Kinaxis chief executive John Sicard and MDS Aero CEO John Jastremski, donated $50,000 in late 2021 to keep the club afloat. 

The following year, a crowdfunding campaign raised more than $40,000 for The Rainbow, whose stage has hosted the likes of the Tragically Hip, Blue Rodeo, k.d. lang and Jeff Healey in its four decades of existence.

While the venue no longer operates seven nights a week as it did before the pandemic, Sivyer says it’s doing more with less, “putting on three or four good shows a week” that sell out at least 50 per cent of the time.

“That seems to pay the bills, so everything is good,” he explained.

Now, Sivyer is optimistic the club will get an additional boost when entertainment giant Live Nation Canada opens its new venue at the 60,000-square-foot former commercial space at Rideau Street and Confederation Boulevard that Chapters vacated in 2022.

His main concern, he said, is where those 2,000 concertgoers will park.

“I don’t know where they’re going to (put) all those cars,” Sivyer said.

The National Capital Commission, which owns the former Chapters building, said last week its forecasts suggest the new concert venue will generate an economic impact of more than $1 billion over the term of the lease.

Zachary Dayler, executive director of ByWard Market District Authority, said he’s not surprised at the NCC’s projection.

“After four years of the pandemic, we’re sort of in this new phase now where I think people are much more comfortable going out again, and there’s a renewed interest in (live performances),” said Dayler, whose organization oversees the Market. “From a business standpoint, I think a live concert venue is a really solid bet.”

Long a magnet for tourists as well as residents from across the Ottawa region, the ByWard Market has fallen on hard times in recent years as crime and safety worries have dominated headlines about the neighbourhood.

But Dayler said Live Nation’s decision to put the new concert hall in the Market is proof that “pieces are being put into place” to rejuvenate the area.

“This isn’t going to open tomorrow, but it’s a signal of things to come,” he said.

Dayler noted the Market already contributes billions of dollars to the local economy each year. The new music venue will attract thousands of additional visitors every month, who will spend money at nearby bars, restaurants and other businesses like The Rainbow, he added.

“What Live Nation brings is just a different level of performer,” he said. 

“If you look at it from a commercial leasing standpoint, you have an A-plus tenant there that’s going to bring in anchor shows and performances which will have very significant positive spinoff effects for the district. It’s a nice offering that will bring some much-needed attention (to the Market).”

Sivyer agreed, saying he sees Live Nation’s arrival as a vote of confidence in what’s become a much-maligned part of the downtown core. 

“I’ve never had any issues … and yet people we talk to say, ‘We don’t go there anymore. It’s too dangerous,’” he said. “It’s about time we had some positive talk about the ByWard Market.”

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