Nanaimo buys five lots at key downtown intersection

Nanaimo is revamping a key downtown intersection, with plans to redevelop a 0.82-acre chunk of land as it envisions a more pedestrian-friendly roadway and new transit hub.

The Terminal Avenue and Commercial Street intersection is Nanaimo’s “front door to our downtown,” said Mayor Leonard Krog. “Virtually anybody who comes downtown is going to go through that intersection.”

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It’s crucial that that area be attractive and encourage people to look further and enjoy the downtown, he said Wednesday.

The city is buying five lots — two at 565 and 575 Terminal Ave. and three adjacent parcels on Commercial Street — as it looks to develop a cohesive urban design for the location.

Two small commercial buildings and a vacant lot, all with commercial zoning, will be combined with existing city-owned land.

The vacant site at 10 Commercial St. was once the home of the historic two-storey Jean Burns building, which was destroyed by a massive fire in March 2016. Once the sales close mid-August, prices will be released, Krog said.

The development concept includes a public space or plaza.

Krog said the city is eager to hear ideas from residents for the soon-to-be-purchased lands and for Terminal Avenue.

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The mayor noted that people are returning to the city’s core and he’s seen lineups for restaurants spilling onto streets.

“It’s an exciting time for the downtown as we come out of COVID,” he said.

Upgrades are anticipated next year to Terminal Avenue between Esplanade and Commercial.

Longer-term plans for the avenue are also in the works.

The province is planning to re-pave Terminal Avenue, part of Highway 1, in 2022.

City-led improvements could include a new transit hub between Terminal Avenue and Shaw Lane, new trees and features to create a more pedestrian-friendly street.

There’s also the potential to upgrade the Albert-Wallace-Victoria-Commercial intersection, the city said.

At the same time, the city is working through its Reimagine Nanaimo process, which will update the city’s official community plan.

Krog said upgrading this part of the downtown was a campaign commitment for many members of council.

Bill Sims, Nanaimo general manager of engineering and public works, said the city has been working on the redevelopment plan for quite a while.

One goal for Terminal Avenue is to design a streetscape that is on a “human scale” and doesn’t feel as though the avenue is dividing downtown, he said.

There’s been dialogue for many years about how to improve the area.

The land assembly combined with transportation planning is an opportunity to think about the “entire downtown in a cohesive, coherent manner, sort of starting to lay the groundwork for the evolution of downtown,” he said.

As part of that evolution, Nanaimo recently built a two-way cycling route on Front Street to create a large circle around the downtown.

Eventually it will link to Vancouver Island University, Sims said.

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