The idea of closing Main Street in downtown North Bay for a pedestrian mall during the summer months has been discussed on and off for years.
It had been suggested that the area be closed to vehicular traffic for the entire season, or on a weekends-only basis.
Last month the DIA board sent an e-survey to its roughly 200 voting members which include banks, professional offices, retailers and restaurants, asking if they would support the idea of a pedestrian mall and the closure of Main Street to vehicular traffic for the remainder of this season.
Of the 50 people who responded, the final tally showed 32 per cent voted against the idea, while 18 per cent were in favour of a seasonal pedestrian mall.
On the question of weekends only, the results were evenly split.
“The challenge with that 50 per cent is that a lot of the people that responded said they would maybe be okay with that, but it generated a lot of questions about what that would look like,” said DIA Board chair Michelle Trudeau.
“Most of the restaurants we talked with felt that it was a bit too much of a responsibility for them to make the downtown look good and also the cost involved in actually closing the street and getting the extra furniture people might need and the weather protection, putting tents up and down over a short period of time. Then there was the security issue. Fire, police and ambulance weighed in on the decision as far as not being able to get through here in a timely manner if things were set up on the street.”
Some of the retailers and professional offices raised concerns about their elderly clients.
“They were concerned about their elderly clientele or people who had issues as far as walking and they didn’t want the street closed for those reasons. So, it was quite a discussion for almost a month about whether or not it should be done,” Trudeau explained.
The DIA got the message and will not follow through with a pedestrian mall at this time.
“This is a decision not taken lightly as many costs and resources are used for street closures,” stated Trudeau.
“We also have to follow social distancing protocols set out by the province of Ontario. At the moment there will not be any closures.”
Trudeau did say if the climate changes, referring to COVID-19, the Board may consider doing some kind of “non-event” in the downtown in the coming months.
“That could be either in late August or early September should the weather hold up, and it is a big ‘if’. The Board is really open to considering closing the streets, maybe for a week or maybe, if things get a lot better, we may revisit the decision again,” said Trudeau.
“It is just right now the poll is pretty strong. They want the street left open.”
Trudeau isn’t sure if a similar poll will go out next spring to get an earlier start.
“The biggest reason to do something like this was for those patio extensions. But now on Friday, restaurants get to open their dining rooms again. So, it will be really interesting whether or not we even have a discussion about closing the street on a more permanent basis,” said Trudeau.
“In my estimation, it will probably continue as event-based, but I don’t know. I have no idea. It is very difficult to speculate at this time what is going to happen next year.”
The Board chair said the DIA will continue to discuss all options keeping its membership in mind.