Downtown Kitchener is no longer the only city core dealing with the economic silence that attends ION construction. Uptown Waterloo is now in the throes of work to upgrade and relocate underground water services along King Street. The section of King Street between Erb and William Streets will be closed for the next 10 months.
The closure was expected by business owners, after the Region worked with GrandLinq to push construction past the 2015 holiday shopping season.
“The 10-month closure ensures GrandLinq can get all of the civil infrastructure work completed for the 2016 holiday shopping season,” explained Kimberly Moser, Manager, Rapid Transit Community Relations for the Region of Waterloo.
“This includes all of the underground utilities as well as all the ION tracks, overhead catenary poles and [the] LRT stop at the public square.”
For the most part, business owners sound understanding, but also frustrated about delays in action and too much miscommunication.
“GrandLinq was great to protect the streets for holiday shopping and I wish they’d continue with that good will but there has been a lack of communication with businesses,” said Mandy Brouse, co-owner of Words Worth Books.
Brouse explained that during meetings with GrandLinq, businesses between Willis Way and William Street expressed the importance of keeping access to Hughes Lane open. At the time of writing, Hughes was still closed.
“We anticipate having issues with deliveries. We went to a meeting with GrandLinq to explain that the space had to stay open but now it’s not. It’s frustrating,” said Brouse.
Brouse explained that the City of Waterloo seems to be offering a wait and see approach to construction. She hopes that the City will continue to listen to business owners and encourage GrandLinq to stay accountable.
“We keep hearing that it’s the nature of construction but the communication is too top down. If they change the plan, they need to tell us right away. The wait and see attitude isn’t good enough… We’re learning to take everything we’re told with a grain of salt.”
Fellow uptown business owner and Ward 7 councillor Melissa Durrell explained that while emails from GrandLinq have been plentiful, the information within them isn’t always up to date.
“I get emails daily about what’s happening. Its tough, I understand this is a massive project and I understand that things aren’t always going to go the way they’re planned. There are a lot of balls up in the air and communication needs to happen faster saying we’re sticking to what we were going to do.”
While the section of King Street in uptown is closed, the Uptown Waterloo Business Improve Area is encouraging business owners to use this opportunity to renovate or update their stores. In 2016, the Region provided a grant of $20,000 to the BIA in addition to the City of Waterloo’s recent passing of the Community Improvement Plan. Money from these two sources can be used to support a wide-range of activities including advertising, promotions, events and communications.
“If you’re going to do work, now is the time to do it. It’s hard to give tax dollars to private businesses, but the BIA will help you get to the point where your business is up to date and renovated with a fresh coat of paint,” said Durrell.
Throughout 2016, the Region and GrandLinq will also continue to support all businesses along the ION corridor through bi-weekly construction updates, one-on-one meetings, way-finding signage to assist customers, pedestrians, drivers and deliveries, social media activity and events.
Durrell added that while there’s a sense of frustration, there’s a sense of optimism within the community.
“On the whole, we’re trying to be positive. The neighbourhoods have been banding together and you see them supporting our local businesses. We’re all just waiting to exhale. I’ve never felt this close to the people who live in uptown. There’s anxiety because we know it needs to happen, but there’s a lot of uptown love.”
When asked about summer festivals and other events that uptown is known for, Durrell explained that none of the regular summer programming will be missing, it just may look a little different.
“Arts cultures and festivals are some of our best economic tools. The best way to attract people into the core is to give them something to go to, they may just need to wear different shoes.”
Care Lucas is Executive Director of WLU Student Publications, and Publisher of TCE. You may have bumped into her at Steel Rails over the years, or in one of the Region’s many magical record stores where she regularly combs through stacks of vinyl. At home she spends time building puzzles with her son Atticus, cat Garfunkel and chinese crested dogs Star and Dookie.