BIA pitches Memorial Square partnership

The Downtown Business Improvement Association wants to see the development of Memorial Square happen sooner than later, and has pitched the City a public-private partnership to make that a reality.
To demonstrate its “deep commitment” to the project, which is currently not a priority item in the City’s 10-year capital plan, the BIA is pledging $2 million, $1 million of which will be obtained through a fund-raising campaign, of the estimated $3 million project cost “to accelerate the completion of this project,” Craig Stevens, BIA managing director, writes in a Nov. 23 letter to council.
To facilitate the square’s development, the BIA has assembled a Brand Leadership Team consisting of downtown business owners, other stakeholders such as community leaders, to “oversee this project.”
“The core goal of BLT-Memorial Square Team is to accelerate the completion of the Memorial Square development,” writes Stevens.
The proposal is scheduled to be discussed by general committee today (Monday, Dec. 5). Staff is recommending that the City “enter into an agreement with the BIA to utilize BIA funding for the purposes of establishing a Design Program and preliminary budget analysis for the redevelopment of Memorial Square using the approved principles outlined in the approved concept.”
If accepted, the BIA’s proposal envisions the completion of the project in 2013.
The evolution of Memorial Square into Barrie’s most significant ‘people place’ continued when council approved, in principle, design plans in April, but the square’s development is just one part of a strategy to overhaul the city’s waterfront park system.
Bayview Park, on the waterfront east of Mulcaster Street, Centennial Park, the future Military Heritage Park, within the Allandale Station Park east of the Southshore Community Centre, and Memorial Square are all included in a project that has been termed the Waterfront Parks Initiative. Conceptual designs for the parks got underway in the summer of 2009, according to a staff report.
The vision for Memorial Square calls for it to become an urban space that could provide for a variety of uses and events, and away from its current “garden and green space character.”
To facilitate the change, the Cenotaph would be relocated towards Owen Street, the road network around the square would be replaced with wide, sloped avenues, giving pedestrians priority over vehicles, and temporary staging for short-term events and festivals would be created.
A permanent stage had been considered for Memorial Square, but that function is now being directed to Bayview Park, in part because a permanent stage at Memorial would obstruct views of the lake. The downtown square is the site of a number of events, including Ribfest, Promenade Days, Winterfest and the annual tree lighting. It’s also the centre of Remembrance Day, Battle of Britain, and Battle of the Atlantic services.
Trees along the edges of the square would provide shade to the pedestrian avenues on either side, forming a V shape to focus views of the bay from Dunlop Street while keeping the area open for events and festivals. The pedestrian avenues would be constructed to allow early morning deliveries before pedestrian traffic picks up. The western side of the square could also retain a vehicular link between Dunlop and Simcoe streets.
Terracing in the square would resolve grade issues, resulting in a type of urban piazza in the central part of the space. A water feature on the square’s western edge would mark the beginning of the historic Nine Mile Portage Route that originates from the area. A seamless pedestrian link between Memorial Square and Heritage Park would be created to allow both areas to function as one for events and festivals.
The decommissioning of the underground water reservoir at Bayview brought on a review of that park’s programming needs, leading to the proposal for a permanent performance venue there. Centennial Park comes into the mix because of the relocation of Lakeshore Drive westerly to the old railroad corridor, opening up about 10 acres of waterfront space. Design and function of the future Military Heritage Park is also under consideration.
The renewal of Memorial Square has been a long-identified goal. In 1994, Barrie’s community-based strategic mission statement said, “As central Ontario’s premier waterfront city, Barrie strives to afford its current and future residents varied opportunities to enjoy an enhanced and secure quality of life in a prosperous and ecologically sustainable community.”
Three years later, council passed a resolution directing staff to produce a master plan for the waterfront. Over the ensuing two years, dialogue between the City and stakeholders, including the downtown BIA and the chamber of commerce, led to the development of a master plan identifying six distinct waterfront areas, including The Gables Park, Tyndale Park, and the Allandale Station Park. Master plans were created for Centennial and Bayview parks.
The effort resulted in the Waterfront Master Plan, in 2000. Flowing out of the plan were subsequent plans for a number of waterfront parks.
In 2003 a community group, The Outdoor Performance Centre Committee, began lobbying for a permanent outdoor performance structure at Memorial Square. The group received the overwhelming support of the council of the day for its efforts. The committee, which included senior staff from City Hall and members of the downtown BIA, wanted to evolve Memorial Square into a focal point of the downtown for community events.
The push to recreate Memorial Square continued in 2005 when the City contracted Patty Xenos Design Inc. to create a master plan, from the group’s Next Wave Downtown Revitalization Plan, for downtown and waterfront renewal. Those efforts morphed into the Downtown Commercial Master Plan, adopted in 2006.
The plan identified Memorial Square as a central focus of downtown renewal. In 2008, the city’s culture department held a design session with stakeholders, including residents, downtown business owners, architects, and designers, to establish design principles for the site. One of the recommendations coming from both the Patty Xenos plan and the culture department’s session was that the square not be the site for a permanent outdoor stage.
In the spring of 2010, information meetings were held to review the concepts being created for the waterfront parks, where once again the need for a permanent performance stage in the downtown area was expressed.
Part of the efforts to renew Memorial Square could have access to government funding. Veterans Affairs Canada provides up to 50 percent of the costs of building or adding major additions to existing cenotaphs and monuments, up to $50,000. Staff could look for additional funding sources, according to the report.

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