Old Town BIA plans big for 2015

By Eric Morse

The St Lawrence Business Improvement Area (SLBIA) held a well-attended annual general meeting on Oct. 28 at the Houston Ave. Bar & Grill.

Executive director Al Smith introduced DTAH, the architectural and planning firm chosen in a recent competition to complete the BIA’s master plan. DTAH partner Roger du Toit outlined their experience in the neighbourhood for over 40 years—”we know St Lawrence”—including landscaping at Yonge and Richmond, and the Market St. streetscape.

DTAH did the master plans for the Donlands, for Gooderham and Worts and for Fort York, and are currently working on the revitalization of Front St. which will be realized in 2015. In addition they have prepared street tree survivability guidelines for the city.

Allsopp noted that the operating principle of the planning is to make sure that streets are “complete” e.g. accommodating for vehicles, bicyclists, pedestrians, trees, businesses and residents.

One of DTAH’s mandates is to integrate and reconcile where necessary the existing and overlapping plans and requirements for the East Downtown area, including the King-Parliament Secondary Plan, the Downtown Tall Building Guidelines, the Urban Design Guidelines, a very complex challenge. Allsopp noted that the existing BIA plan called for redesign of other streets, mainly non-thoroughfares, into “complete” streets on the model of Market St., and the coordination of the shorter streets with the laneway system. A further mandate will be to parse the BIA’s current wish list according to complexity and utility. Du Toit also noted that they have looked to the complete renovation of downtown Melbourne, Australia, into an area that has seen a huge increase in residents and quality of life.

In response to questions, the BIA’s executive director noted that there will be public consultation as the plan develops.

Streetscape coordinator Bob Kemp reported that the replacement of summer streetscape decorations by Christmas decorations was now in process.

Supt. Elizabeth Byrnes, Unit Commander of TPS 51 Division, told the meeting that as of September, her community response unit has had an opportunity to dedicate two “beat officers”—old-style foot patrol officers—”PCs Dave and Dave” (McAllister and Bilby), who have specific responsibility for liaison with all the BIAs in the Division. The objective is to provide high-visibility response for ongoing community complaints, to establish personal relations with BIA members as a conduit to the rest of the Division and to upgrade the quality of life in some of the “sketchier” blocks of the division. A member suggested the provision of posters for apartment buildings with a non-911 number to call to report ongoing illicit activity.

Smith, a 10-year veteran of the BIA, commented that some of the streetscape improvement projects such as Market St. have been completed as a vehicular/pedestrian walkway. Front St. has been revitalized from Jarvis to Parliament as a promenade with new sidewalks and a new median in time to be an access corridor for the Pan Am Games. The Esplanade has been upgraded between Market St. and Scott St.

Projects underway include Berczy Park, which will come to fruition in 2016 with construction starting after the Pan Am Games. Other future projects envisioned include the upgrading of Lower Sherbourne St. and track removal on Wellington.

Smith commented that the SLBIA is the seventh largest in Toronto in terms of budget, but in terms of mill-rate levy on members it is fourth out of 72. He noted that this means that the budget is not growing proportionately to assessment. While, as he noted, it is good to keep rates low, it means that fewer resources are available for BIA activity.

Smith reported that in the course of the coming year, as the North Market redevelopment moves forward, the BIA will relocate to new offices at 255 Richmond.

Smith also noted that the BIA has also increased its hanging flower and banner programs and is introducing pole wraps in the King East Design District (KEDD) which also doubles as a wayfinding scheme. The wraps are made from a material that no tape or glue will adhere to: bill posters, beware.

As explained by communications director Robyn Posner, the KEDD design and pole-wrap scheme combine the Toronto Old Town Logo with local colour-coded location signage along with a new dedicated website at www.kingeastdesigndistrict.com.

The BIA hosted a KEDD 3D Party event in September with 15 participating businesses and design showrooms, with a Globe-and-Mail-hosted “future of design” discussion at Biagio on King St. The event generated considerable media attention; proceeds went to Habitat for Humanity.

The BIA organized a plethora of outdoor cultural events in the past year. The 1812 commemoration project continues. Other projects included showcasing the Doors Open Toronto program for the project this year; the BIA may consider expanding this.

The BIA was heavily involved in World Pride promotion. Programming of Music in the Park (St James’s Park) and Movies in the Park remain a strong attraction, as does the Market BBQ. There were installations for Nuit Blanche with a showpiece at Nuit Blanche; animating St. James’s Park remains a core programming objective for the BIA.

The BIA will have its Christmas tree lighting in Berczy Park on Dec. 6 beginning at 6:30. The carollers’ schedule (carollers provided by Hart House) is being booked. Please contact Robyn Posner for bookings.

For 2015, BIA activities will have a strong Pan Am Games orientation. SLBIA is working with the five other neighbourhoods in the area—Riverside, Regent Park, Corktown, Distillery, and Pan Am Path. The BIA will put together a Neighbourhood Guide which will be distrubuted to the athletes in the Village.

The meeting also elected the BIA’s 2014-2015 board of directors: George Milbrandt (former chair 2013-2014),  Leslie Ann Kirijian, Julie Buckareff, John Rennicks, Mike Cruickshank, Carol Henderson, Odysseas Gounalakis, Marlene Cook,  Anna Manca, Graham Hnatiw, Eleonora Caldato, Councillor Pam McConnell and non–voting member Nick Simos, manager of the St Lawrence Market, round out the board which will be appointed by council in January.