Eric Morse –
Every once in a while, success can be a little too much of a good thing.
The Christmas Market in the Distillery District, having just had its fourth year of operation, and named by Fodor’s as “One of the World’s 10 Best Holiday Markets” is showing signs of strain, and the stakeholders are looking for ways to ease the pressure.
The Market runs for three weeks every December. It has become a huge tourist attraction—“tourist” meaning, roughly, anyone who lives farther away than Cabbagetown—and it is a boon to the participating vendors and the merchants and restaurauteurs in the Distillery District.
According to Phyllis Coles, chair of the Gooderham and Worts Neighbourhood Association (GWNA), the 2014 edition saw 450 000 visitors, Distillery businesses did more trade in those three weeks than in the whole previous month, and the area was especially packed on weekends and evenings.
This has led to pressure on the residents of the six condo buildings in the area. There was a small flurry of complaints from GWNA residents during the Market, mainly about visitors taking reserved parking and residential access routes, obstruction of traffic flow, and general noise.
The local TTC routes, principally the 504 King car, also see overcrowding in the evenings when they are already normally crowded with commuters. Specific complaints from residents this year included blockage of loading zones, parking in access areas for the condo buildings, and overcrowding of on-street parking.
Councillor Pam McConnell’s office noted that continuous construction in the West Don Lands for the past few years, including the closure of Cherry St. in 2012 and 2013, has exacerbated pressures.
Before this year’s Market, McConnell’s office consulted with city traffic control staff on options. As a result, regular on-street parking on Parliament and Mill streets was suspended to improve traffic flow, and a large construction lot at Trinity and Front streets was opened up as a parking lot.
The Market was taken up at a Jan. 15 meeting of the stakeholders’ roundtable of the District. It is a standing working group of representatives of the six condo buildings plus lead developer Cityscape and McConnell’s office, which meets regularly to keep on top of District issues.
Coles, who also chairs the roundtable, told The Bulletin that Cityscape, which owns most of the property concerned, is very sensitive to the need to manage the Market to all stakeholders’ concerns. She noted that the developer had brought in paid-duty police to help their own security handle traffic and parking at peak periods, Both McConnell’s office and Coles noted that the unexpected reopening of Cherry St. just before December provided some relief.
“If the city can get the east-west streets (Mill and Front in the PanAm Village area just west of the District, which connect to the Bayview Extension) open by next year that would be a real relief,” Coles told The Bulletin. “But with needing to convert the Village to residential use after the Games, that might not quite happen by the end of 2015.”
McConnell’s office also noted that there are plans afoot to redesign Mill St. to improve traffic flow, which might be completed by 2016. The north sidewalk of Mill St. presents a particular problem because the asphalt sidewalk is broken down but also has hydro poles planted in the middle which thus requires a full rebuild, and consequently, more planning money.
Noise from the Market appears to be something of an issue, if not as acute as traffic. It primarily affects the residents along Grist Mill Lane, that is, of 33 Mill St. and 39 Parliament St.
“Grist Mill Lane is a noise funnel,” Coles said. “There used to be problems from speakers, fire pits and smoke. They have stopped putting entertainment in Grist Mill Lane now, and they’re monitoring the noise level more closely.”
Cityscape partner David Jackson told The Bulletin that while it is early days to begin planning specific solutions twelve months before the next event, his firm has taken away the input from the roundtable and will be working with its members to shape solutions as the event comes nearer.
McConnell’s office commented that by its nature the Christmas Market will always have some stresses that need to be balanced simply because, unlike Woofstock and Buskerfest, which took place for some years on public property and could be moved when they outgrew their venues, the Market is not only on private property but is integrally tied to the historic locale that it occupies, so that a sustainable balance will have to be found.