City approves $3M for improvements to tourist zone on Belleville Street

A $3-million facelift to the 400-block of Belleville Street, including improvements to the Belleville/Menzies plaza will get underway this fall.

Victoria councillors have approved a design that includes $1.13-million in sidewalk, paving and crosswalk improvements, $970,000 for retaining walls and $350,000 for plaza reconstruction.

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It’s to be funded through city reserves and $1 million from Tourism Victoria.

Construction is to begin after prime tourist season in October with estimated completion in April 2018.

The proposed improvements include:

• retaining walls on the Belleville Terminal property

• widened sidewalks on the north side of the block

• streetscape enhancements including new sidewalk and boulevard trees

• a new mid-block crosswalk

• repaving of the street between Oswego and Menzies

• marked on-street bike lanes

• a redesigned plaza/stairway at Belleville/Menzies, widening Belleville sidewalk and plaza enhancements.

The project has been under consideration for years as the Menzies/Belleville plaza is considered a key gateway to the Lower Causeway and Inner Harbour. The area is subject to heavy foot traffic but the sidewalk on the north side of the 400-block of Belleville is in poor condition; there’s limited right of way, a lack of dedicated space for cyclists and the road surface is in poor shape.

Brad Dellebuur, city manager of transportation, said the area has some of the worst sidewalks downtown with some of the highest concentrations of pedestrians.

The existing retaining wall immediately west of the Coho Terminal building is at the end of its life and needs to be replaced, said city staff, while the west section will need a new retaining wall to support a widened sidewalk.

City staff said the improvements will mean a loss of 25 parking stalls on the south side of the block, but unlike other areas of the city, the change is supported by the businesses in the area.

“For me that was one of the oddest parts of the conversations that we did have with the stakeholders,” Dellebuur told councillors. “We went out to talk to hotel owners proposing to take out 25 of the 30 spaces in the front of their street and they were overwhelmingly in support of it.

“They felt that that would actually improve the aesthetics for their hotel and would make their operations for the various valet parking and valet service and entry and exit out of the hotel that much cleaner and safer for their staff, and they felt they’ve got lots of parking in the underground and in surface parking,” Dellebuur said.

Existing boulevard trees in front of Quadra Park and the Steamship Terminal building are to be replaced, while new trees are to be added in the northeast quadrant of the block and at the mid-block crosswalk.

In all, seven boulevard trees are to be removed but there will be a net increase of 12 trees.

Improvements to the plaza are all on city property and include an expanded upper plaza/pedestrian space adjacent to Belleville street.

City staff said a more extensive reconfiguration of the plaza, which will have to involve the province and the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, could potentially occur as part of phase three of the Belleville Terminal redevelopment, which is currently unfunded.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said it’s important the city push “really, really hard” for the further plaza improvements as part of the terminal redevelopment.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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