Brampton’s plans for future downtown redevelopment on hold
Business owners in downtown Brampton aren’t just dealing with the vagaries of a pandemic.
The closures to fight the novel coronavirus have come after decades of problems.
Rising homelessness and crime against property have accompanied the closure of stores, as more and more windows are boarded up.
Surface and underground infrastructure is in poor shape, but the City of Brampton has abandoned plans to refurbish the area. Entrepreneurs who have invested in downtown are left wondering when they will get the support City Hall has been promising for twenty years.
Their request is straightforward: improve the roads, sidewalks, and sub-surface infrastructure while beautifying the aging streetscape.
The commitment to these basic expectations is illustrated in huge murals in the Four Corners area – Downtown Reimagined is the concept. But the plan is now collecting dust.
The Downtown Reimagined plan promised a renewed streetscape in downtown Brampton. The dream remains unrealized.
Promises were made, but construction just never seems to start. A growing list of needed improvements is once again being ignored, as the City’s 2021 budget makes little mention of investments for downtown.
Businesses, if they can survive, will likely be waiting for years.
Approved prior to the current term of Council, Downtown Reimagined was introduced with great fanfare and the giant advertisements in the city centre can’t be missed. It was supposed to add bike lanes and widen sidewalks, enhance the streetscape and feature inviting landscaping throughout the area, with new water and sewer lines constructed by the Region of Peel. Construction was supposed to begin near the start of 2019.
It never happened.
The project was put on hold in December 2018, immediately after the election of Mayor Patrick Brown, who had campaigned on the promise of no new taxes.
The project’s cost had increased significantly from original estimates and the City did not have the money.
The delay was supposed to be temporary, until the City under the direction of a new council could work out issues around the project such as the now scrapped Ryerson University satellite campus and plans to extend the Hurontario LRT into downtown with a connection to the GO Station. In August 2019, The Pointer reported recommendations from staff would come in May, but they never did.
There is no mention of the plan in the city’s proposed 2021 budget, which outlines capital projects over the next three years. The City says the plan is not cancelled.
“Downtown Reimagined is currently on hold pending the recommendations on the light rail transit (LRT) environmental assessment (EA) on Main Street that is currently underway,” the City told The Pointer.
According to an outline provided on the City’s website, the EA will likely not be submitted before fall 2021. Currently, the conceptual design and evaluation process are being worked on. The City was supposed to host an open house for residents sometime this fall, before the preliminary design process and another open house is to take place in the winter or spring of 2021. A report will be submitted to the Province after this process is completed.
A tentative timeline for Brampton's LRT environmental assessment.
Downtown Reimagined is now part of a new initiative the City will introduce in 2021: The Integrated Downtown Plan. The City calls this an “overarching policy approach” that will lead to more opportunities in the area through infrastructure upgrades, urban design, and the creation of new programs, leading to employment opportunities, enhanced public spaces and the consideration of future transit projects. No details of these projects are available.
Other capital projects, such as the Centre for Innovation and Riverwalk (another massive proposal to create a downtown waterway while mitigating flood risk that has prevented development) will also fall under the realm of this broad initiative for the city centre.
The plan still needs to be designed and approved and it’s not clear what specific details will be made available. The 2021 budget allocates $200,000 in 2021 and again in 2022 to design this plan, and it may be years, if the City ever commits capital investments, before construction begins.
The introduction of this plan adds another layer of opportunities and potential transformation for businesses, but little idea on how, and when, such changes might take place. It’s a familiar story for businesses.
“They keep saying, saying, saying, but I still have yet to see any [changes] coming through,” Lorraine Smith, owner of Purple Rain Spa in downtown Brampton, told The Pointer.
Even though the City has paused its plans, the Region’s portion of Downtown Reimagined, which includes replacing water lines and sewer pipes, is set to happen sometime in the new year as a temporary solution to crumbling infrastructure.
More permanent work will be done when (or if) the LRT project for the downtown core is approved. Staff are examining the best option for the route, after Brown pushed for a tunnel alignment under a section of Main Street, which staff estimated could cost as much as $1.7 billion for the whole project.
It’s unclear how Brown plans to get his tunnel idea funded.
But the Region of Peel can’t wait.
“The interim solution will be designed to address the critical infrastructure in the downtown core that currently has a high risk of failure,” a June 25 regional staff report says. Amie Miles, a spokesperson from the Region said it could be years before the design and construction of the LRT is completed and “the risk associated with delay of the interim utility work is not recommended.”
A map showing infrastructure work in downtown Brampton to be completed by the Region of Peel.
The report states if the decision on the LRT is made before the temporary work starts, it will review how the project will proceed. Whenever an option for the LRT is approved, all of the Region’s work will be overhauled to consider the gas and hydro lines, among other brand new infrastructure set to be installed next year, if work has to be redone to accommodate any future construction for the LRT.
The Region has said, despite the possibility of wasting millions on subsurface utilities that might get ripped out within years, it simply cannot wait any longer to replace the already outdated infrastructure. There are risks to property and even safety.
The work will replace water mains on two streets in the downtown core, including Queen Street from Mill Street south to Scott Street. Parts of this watermain were installed between 1969 and 1979. The water main from Main Street at Nelson Street to John Street, installed in 1995, will also be replaced.
Details on the design are not available at this time. Maria Andersen, a spokesperson for the Region, said the design is currently underway and is expected to be completed in the summer of 2021. Construction will follow in the Fall.
A second water main scheduled to be replaced this year is located on Queen Street West from McLaughlin Road South to Mill Street South, and was installed in 1972. The Region’s website states the planning process is currently in the early stages.
While the LRT has been the publicly shared reason as to why Downtown Reimagined has been on hold, questions have swirled on how rising costs may have also played a role. When the project was taking bids in 2018, some were more than double the $33 million cost projected by the City, with one coming in at $73 million to complete the work. This estimate was made two years ago, and when the project does eventually get back on track, the cost will be even higher.
Brown, meanwhile, continues to push a budget that offers no investment in the downtown, while he talks about ambitious plans, such as a new Brampton University.
Until he starts making hard choices, instead of being preoccupied with boosting his political popularity through tax freezes, downtown property owners and businesses can expect the area to keep declining.
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