The latest survey on the Byward Market was announced on August 1st. This one, run by the City’s Planning, Infrastructure and Economic Development Department, seeks the greater public’s opinion on Byward’s ‘public realm’. No, the City does not want your feedback on a Game of Thrones Day on George St. The public realm refers to every inch you can touch without going into a private property. Sidewalks, planters, roads, public washrooms etc.
There has been a double standard set forth by the City in funding all things Byward (and Parkdale) while profiting off smaller markets. To be clear, I am referring to the market operations of Byward, not pubs, restaurants etc.
Each Saturday, approximately 250 - 300 people visit the Beechwood Market. A percentage of them move on to other local businesses. They buy a coffee at Bridgehead, visit Ahmed at Art House Custom Framing, drop off their dry cleaning at Monson’s beforehand. The Beechwood Market is doing it’s part for Ottawa’s economic development. Yet, rather than receive an influx of cash from Planning, Infrastructure and Economic Development Department for a study or improvements, we transfer over $5,000 each season to rent Optimiste Park from the Parks and Recreation Department.
I swallowed the pricetag pill a while back, but this most recent injection of dough into Byward has me regurgitating. Councillors and staff will tell you that all departments are managed separately and draw from their own budgets. But, when I transfer that amount of cash to the City and then see yet another hefty study (there was one done in 2013 to the tune of $50,000) on improving a competing market, I can’t help but feel the burn. You don’t care that your parking ticket money is going to the by-law department. You care that it is...well, gone.
Of course, I understand the wild parallels I draw by yelling about this. Beechwood Village is not Ottawa’s second most important tourist attraction. We do not have almost 200 years of history. And, we do not have the backing of Ottawa Tourism, the Ottawa-Gatineau Hotel Association, thirsty developers, City Council and City staff. I love Byward’s history, familiarity and cultural relevance. I genuinely wish it to continue on as one of Ottawa’s beacons.
However, the City has dropped the Byward Ball for years and now they are scrambling to salvage some of its marketness.
Their most recent answer was to create the Ottawa Markets Corporation:
Its mission - to improve the operations of the Parkdale and Byward Markets. A board was assembled, an Executive Director hired and some start up funding secured. A plan was presented. It included things like beautifying the area around the main building and making it more pedestrian friendly. Sound familiar, Lord Tyrion? The public realm! The Ottawa Markets’ self-sufficient budget was to come from revenue generated by outdoor vendor fees, the Byward Building tenant rents as well as the seven commercial tenancies in the multi level parking garage. Why then is a City department paying for the survey of its public realm?
A few weeks ago, Ottawa Markets’ board chair Peter Hume delivered a not-so-good report on the state of the Byward union. One point he made was that competition is making it difficult for Byward to attract Ottawa residents back downtown to shop for produce. He is not wrong. The irony is that that much of the competition was created as an answer to the pitfalls of the Byward Market. Strict parking rules, reselling vendors, crime, quality control, pedestrian unfriendliness have all driven consumers to markets closer to home.
The Beechwood Market does not need a study or City money for improvements. We are doing fine in our little corner of the City. My request is that the playing field be equal. If the City charges a fee to markets that are genuinely developing the economy, it should certainly not use taxpayer money to prop up an effort that drains that same economy.
Perhaps it is time for Byward to set off on a new journey.