It’s been a long time coming, but Front Street merchants in New Westminster are finally breathing a sigh of relief now that the de-construction of the adjacent concrete parkade is finally over. It has been well documented that many of them like small business-owner Harm Woldring were severely impacted by the length of construction. Woldring owns a wonderful wine “u-brew” at Ground Zero and he has made front-page headlines regarding his concerns over how the Front Street project was mis-managed by City Hall.
In a recent interview with the Record newspaper Woldring discussed the financial losses he faced during construction. “The revenue alone in the last year, $70,000…and that’s just the last year. Go backwards for four more years and it’s $30,000 to $40,000 to $50,000 a year every year for five years. The city says: ‘It’s not our problem.’”
“The impact on the businesses has been ridiculous,” he told the Record.
Woldring went so far as to take the city to small claims court because of damage done to his storefront. While he did have a sympathetic judge, in the end he says City Hall found a way to avoid paying for the repairs caused by crews working on Front Street.
“Now it is so damaged that I have to chain my door shut because it doesn’t lock properly any more. So the landlord is now involved, and now because the landlord is involved, now we are going to pay attention. In other words, in the City of New Westminster, if you are a small business owner you don’t count. They don’t care.”
“In other words, in the City of New Westminster, if you are a small business owner you don’t count. They don’t care. – Harm Woldring, Small Business Owner
Fast forward to this evening whereby the inaugural “Friday on Front” event took place. The City of New Westminster must hope this will help begin to repair what can only be described as one of their worst PR disasters in at least a decade.
Not surprisingly, the event attracted at least four city politicians who appeared eager to shake hands & kiss a few babies – no doubt they are quietly hoping a successful launch event will help voters forget what just transpired.
By way of some history, Front Street is home to one of the world’s ugliest above ground parkades. It is tucked in between Columbia Street and the railway tracks in downtown New Westminster. That parkade is now about half its original size with the western portion having been demolished.
City Hall made the right decision to begin taking it down and “daylighting” an otherwise gloomy part of the city which rarely saw sunlight – or people for that matter. However, while the concept sounded great, the actual execution was far from perfect. There were the inevitable complaints regarding the reported $9M price tag and financial impacts to local merchants.
In a statement to News 1130, a city spokesperson told them “the budget for the Front Street Rehabilitation project was set at $9M. Any necessary changes to scope due to unforeseen circumstances (e.g. the need to replace the beam at the foot of Sixth Street) are being accommodated within the project contingency.” While the project did not open on time…only time will tell whether it actually comes in on budget.
The Friday on Front concept [which takes place most of this summer] was meant to help everyone erase all that bad blood and get people looking toward the future.
While I was only able to attend for about an hour…there certainly was a healthy crowd of young, hip urbanites in attendance who would normally call Vancouver home – were it not for the fact they’ve become virtual housing refugees due to the lack of affordability in that city.
I was left wondering what will happen after the novelty factor wears off in a few weeks. Will people continue to flock to that two block strip on a cloudy evening if there is little to do but visit a few city pop-up booths and food trucks? Only time will tell…and I’m certainly rooting for them, but I remain a bit concerned this gamble may not pay off – at least in the short-term.
If you haven’t been to Front Street since part of the concrete parkade was taken down, by all means make an effort to visit and support the merchants.
The old brick buildings, newly constructed streetscape and public art are definitely attractive [click here for more photos]. When you combine it with the nearby River Market and Pier Park, there certainly is enough for you to do in that area to make a visit worthwhile.
City Hall does deserve credit for making an attempt to revitalize this two-block strip of New Westminster, but you can’t help but think there remains so much more work to do.
We still don’t have enough sports and recreation facilities in town. The office vacancy rate is sitting at record high levels. New condo tower construction is anything but inspiring when it comes to modern urban design. The condition of many roads and public sidewalks – particularly in Queensborough – is shameful.
Yes, tonight is a time to celebrate and support the Front Street business owners who rightfully deserves a boost! But City Hall can’t rest on its laurels…as there is way more work to be done.
Oh yeah…speaking of work. Now that the Mayor is done fixing up Front Street…could he do something about 3rd Street? It is in absolutely deplorable condition! Here are the pics below to show you what I mean.