If you've been on Spring Garden Road of late, you've started to see the changes.
Construction of apartments up above the City Centre Atlantic has begun, and the new building at the corner of Birmingham Street and Spring Garden, now home to the TD Bank and Summit Spa, has recently been completed.
And that's just the beginning, says Nancy Tissington, who has been the executive director of the Spring Garden Area Business Association for a little over a year.
"A lot more people living down here" is how she predicts the district will change. "Between 600 to 800 people living right within a block of Spring Garden Road. But within the business district boundary, the nine-block area from South Park to Brunswick, we're estimating another 800 people in the next number of years." And that doesn't even include the exclusive Trillium building on South Park, since she doesn't yet know its occupancy.
But she does include the two parking lots recently sold on Clyde Street, which will soon sprout apartment buildings. And the people who live above Pete's Frootique will have a fully stocked pantry of fresh goods on the ground floor. "Fresh every day, just like other major cities in Canada," she says.
Tissington reports that Westwood Developments' Danny Chedrawe, who put up the TD Canada Trust building, is in negotiations with the people who own the Winsby's site, kitty-corner to the new building, for potential redevelopment. "It's like a game of Monopoly," she says with a laugh. "And the whole area at Brunswick and Doyle, he's planning on taking that down and developing there. And what its going to look like, I don't know. He has a vision." Whatever the shape of that development, across the street from the new library site, it will include room for businesses with retail on the main floor. "They'll start on that just prior to the library opening in 2014. Our biggest thing for businesses is trying to cope with parking" during the transition and in the future. Tissington's intention is to try to keep parking as tight to the retail district as possible.
"One of the things we're advocating for is the shape of our sidewalks right now, and the underwiring as they go," she says. "Danny will be doing undergrounding as he goes, and the library, too. But some of the ones that aren't, closer to South Park, we'd love to see proper sidewalk repairs and underwiring."
The business association is keen to do a pedestrian study to get a baseline now to measure against the changes to come, since the sidewalk space is already at capacity. "It's great to see the library come into play with public funding. I was reading that in Winnipeg, with the new library, 138,000 additional folks come in during the summer months."
Tissington asserts that although the private sector has plenty of confidence in the district, she'd love to see more funding from HRM to recognize the commercial tax base.
"One of the businesses at $42,000"---a year in taxes---"on the main street has said to me, 'Why can't I have a proper sidewalk entering into my business, not asphalt?' I think they deserve to have that." The streetscaping plan for Spring Garden Road was laid out in a report issued in January 2009. "It didn't go anywhere. They spent $675,000, and not even a piece of it has been implemented. And when you go to the councillors, there are 23, but only six for the core. And they're all vying for fixing it or doing it better."
The success of Spring Garden Road as a shopping district can't be denied, a success that is due to an eclectic group of longtime retailers. The influx of the new residents can only be a benefit to the area. Tissington says she feels lucky to be in her job, to watch the changes that will hit the area in the next five years.
"It's the authentic, true culture of the city," she says. Business owners in the area admit though the tourists are the gravy, it's the people who live and work downtown that make the place thrive. "I always say it's not 'either/or,' it's 'and.' I don't think it's that we're competing with the big box stores. When I go to other cities, I like to visit the core, because that's where you get the essence. When you visit a mall, it's all the same stores you catch in any other city."