Ottawa: Elgin Street businesses draft LRT petition

Elgin Street's business improvement association is still in the works, but the group already has a cause it is fighting for: bringing a proposed LRT station back to the neighbourhood.

Earlier this month, the city's finance committee approved a staff plan to move the station from a spot near the National Arts Centre and Confederation Square to another location on Rideau Street, close to the ByWard Market. The report must pass council before approval.

In response, representatives from Elgin Street businesses are drafting a petition to the city explaining the importance of the location and asking to bring it back, said Keith Loiselle, the owner of Woody's Elgin Street Urban Pub.

"No one's got their eye on the street," when it came to choosing station location, he said.

The National Arts Centre will review the letter once it is completed and will likely sign it as well, added Rosemary Thompson, the institute's director of communications.

Late last year, the NAC unveiled a proposed redesign of its Elgin Street entrance. The light-rail station was the catalyst of the proposal.

"We would love (the station) to be preserved," Ms. Thompson said. "I think that all of us would. We know that we don't have a lot of time, but we're very hopeful that the station can be preserved."

The group says that it has a solid business case behind its plea, and has also elicited the support of Transport Action Canada, a citizen transportation advocacy group, as it makes its pitch to city hall.

Key planks in the group's argument include:

- The station's proximity to the National Arts Centre, Confederation Square, City Hall and the courthouse, all facilities housing hundreds of workers and used frequently by the public;

- The addition of several new office buildings in the area, such as the 17-storey tower currently being constructed to replace the aging Lorne Building at 90 Elgin St.;

- The number of restaurants, pubs and other businesses along Elgin Street, as well as hotels.

As rationale for moving the station, city staff argued that "expected passenger flows" through it would not justify the expense given the population of riders it would serve.

"Concerns were expressed that the location of the Rideau Station was too close to the Downtown East Station and would not provide optimal service to the ByWard Market area," the committee stated in a report presented to the finance committee March 6.

In the midst of this push, the Elgin Street businesses are working to unite themselves as a business improvement association. They aim to get started this summer and formulate a budget for 2013.

The group is currently organizing area captains to gather contact information for the businesses within the proposed BIA boundaries, which would run along Elgin Street from about Slater Street to Highway 417. "Retail veins" in side streets off of Elgin could also be included.

Elgin Street representatives are also periodically meeting with Coun. Diane Holmes and Chris Cope, an economic development officer in the city.

Once the group is organized and enough information sessions are done to inform property owners, a vote will take place to establish the BIA.

All BIA budgets must be approved by the city, although the BIAs themselves manage the budgets. Funding for each BIA comes from a levy on properties within the designated area. 

From activities and discussions so far, Mr. Loiselle said he feels majority support for an Elgin BIA is likely.

He has elicited the support of the three major property owners at 160, 180 and 200 Elgin St. By square footage, which determines vote share, these three are just about enough to get the needed support, he said.

"We're already looking quite good."

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