Business owners along the 1000-block of Broad Street are hoping to bring a piece of Europe to downtown Victoria by making permanent the closing of the single block to motor traffic.
They have petitioned the City of Victoria to permanently close the block between Broughton and Fort streets to vehicles, preserving the pedestrian zone and outdoor cafés and seating areas created last spring.
“It was such a special place last summer and it was all done ad hoc, we think with some planning and getting the street together the … block will be a little slice of Europe,” said Pagliacci’s co-owner Solomon Siegel, who spearheaded the petition.
Siegel said, with a permanent closure to motor traffic, business owners would be more confident investing in permanent improvements for the block that would enhance the experience for people and create a new destination for the city.
“Everyone got to see it in action last year, which I think really helped,” he said. “Suggesting anything like this before COVID might have made people nervous, but anyone who saw the block last year saw it was fantastic.”
Last spring as part of the Build Back Victoria program, the city created temporary public space initiatives to help local businesses respond to the COVID‑19 pandemic. Those temporary projects, such as closing off Broad Street, have already been extended until the end of October.
Mayor Lisa Helps and Coun. Jeremy Loveday have put forward the idea the city consider extending the Broad Street closure indefinitely. It is on the agenda for Thursday’s committee of the whole meeting.
They have asked council to direct staff to extend the pedestrian-only status of Broad Street to the end of 2021 and include the block as a 2022 action in the appropriate workplan, capital planning, and budget documents.
Yann Fougere, one of the owners of Bon Macaron, across the street from Pagliacci’s, said making the closure to vehicles permanent would open up all sorts of possibilities for retailers on the block.
“Last year I put some tables outside as a temporary thing, this year we have talked about creating a bit of an attraction outside,” he said, noting they have considered a booth where they could sell ice cream macarons.
Fougere said the closure has created a welcoming atmosphere on the street and it has led to people just coming down to hang out, have coffee and check out the businesses along the block.
“People now look at Broad Street as a destination rather than just a bridge between Fort Street and the Broughton Street parkade,” he said.
Siegel said having the road closed to traffic and being able to set up tables outdoors made a huge difference to his business last year.
“In the height of summer, not only were we able to hire back all our regular staff, we were able to expand our support of live music … we had live music outside every day,” he said. They were also able to wean themselves temporarily off some of the federal COVID relief measures.
He said they have been approved for the B.C. Recovery Grant and if the street is permanently closed they will invest in a “beautiful boutique outdoor space” and continuing to support live music performances and perhaps expand to live theatre.
“All the businesses around us are locally owned small businesses and if we can bring walk-by traffic it can only help them,” he said.
Jeff Bray, executive director of the Downtown Victoria Business Association, said a permanent closure of Broad Street is a fantastic idea. “This is a case where the city and business are looking to work hand-in-hand,” he said. “It’s about balance and making sure we enhance the pedestrian experience and the business experience.”