OTTAWA - Can Ottawa support an underground city?
One of the reoccurring themes for councillors during the light-rail transit meeting on July 14 was the possibility of adding some shops and businesses underground.
River Coun. Maria McRae said the city needs to take a serious look at the potential to include an underground mall – or at least a few shops – before it gets too far into the process of building the LRT system. Gloucester-South Nepean Coun. Steve Desroches was also interested in promoting private investment in building the stations.
A presentation by the owners of the Rideau Centre gave McRae hope.
Ivan Boulva, vice president of development for Cadillac Fairview Corporation Ltd., the company that owns the Rideau Centre, didn’t close the door on that possibility.
“Once you get underground, it has to be looked at,” he said.
Rideau Station, which will be situated under the canal and connect the mall with access to the National Arts Centre, is the largest station and likely the best option for underground businesses, Jensen said.
“First of all, they didn’t say ‘no,’” McRae said. “They didn’t say ‘yes,’ but … in the business world, the buzz is more positive than it was before.
“We’re hearing nibbles now,” she added.
The business community has been reacting positively to the city’s plan to reduce the depth of the downtown rail tunnel from about 10 storeys deep to around four.
That means it is time for the city to “talk turkey” about including businesses in the LRT stations, McRae said.
“We have to get really serious with the business community,” she said.
That might mean simply planning the structures in a way that would allow them to be expanded underground in the future, McRae said, when there may be more of a demand for below-ground retail or services.
Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury was disappointed that the station designs didn’t contemplate more space for cafés or convenience stores. Kitchissippi Coun. Katherine Hobbs had the same idea.
John Jensen, manager of the city’s rail implementation office, said there is room for newspaper vendors and coffee kiosks at station entrances – a much more common feature in subway systems.