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Life’s a beach! 

Locals make Sands at Salter Park a success.

click to enlarge Beach volleyball on the waterfront. - CHRIS TOMS
  • Beach volleyball on the waterfront.
  • Chris Toms

When we started researching this feature, we put a call out on Twitter, asking people which is their favourite urban park. The Oval was the overwhelming winner, but second place was a surprise, to us anyway: People really like Sands at Salter, the beach-themed park on the waterfront.

Sands at Salter is a byproduct of a failed development proposal called Salter Block, which called for a small boutique hotel, an apartment building, 75,000 square feet of retail space and, crucially, a half-hectare public park. Developer Frank Medjuck ultimately backed out of the proposal, but the idea for the park got people thinking, explains Colin MacLean, president of Waterfront Development, the provincial crown corporation that controls the waterfront.

"We called in everyone we could think of, poured them a cup of coffee and asked them what we should do with the space," says MacLean. The idea for an urban beach came up, and that led to the concept of pulling up the parking lot, piling the asphalt and covering it to form the berm overlooking the water.

The actual sand lot, however, was almost an afterthought, as local event organizer Derek Martin had landed hosting rights to the World Juniors' Beach Volleyball Championship. "He asked if he could hold them here, and we said why not?" says MacLean.

The resulting park, costing just $50,000, plus the loss of parking revenue, is successful beyond anyone's dream, but also works differently than was anticipated. "We've found that the focus is not on the waterfront, but instead on the open space and sand," says MacLean. "People aren't accessing the water much."

Additionally, the park is almost entirely used by locals. When cruise ships are in, the park is empty. When the tourists are away, the park fills up. MacLean talks of children using the sand passively, and of one young woman who started a developmental volleyball league, to teach the game to junior high and high school students.

Sands at Salter was initially intended to be in existence for just two years, as it was expected that a new development proposal for the site would be floated by now. But with no developments in the works, MacLean commits to keeping the park another year or two. "We're going to fix a few things, and try to figure out how to encourage people to get in the water. Maybe they don't know it's OK to go in the water."

For the long term, even with a new development, there will likely still be a Sands at Salter, or something much like it. "A developer might have a better proposal," says MacLean.

Is MacLean worried that people might be so attached to Sands at Salter that they would oppose a changed concept for it in a future development? "I'm never worried that people will be too attached to the waterfront." --TB

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