Drop the puck! City to suspend road work along Red Mile during Flames playoff run
|calgaryherald.com 23 Mar 2019 at 04:28|
Hockey fans will be able to gather and party along the entire length of the Red Mile this spring, thanks to a decision by the city to temporarily suspend construction along 17th Avenue for the duration of the Calgary Flames’ playoff run.
The move is in response to vociferous campaigning by local businesses, many of whom are struggling to weather Calgary’s economic slump and a drop-off in sales due in part to the multi-year construction project underway on 17th Avenue S.W.
“We are taking a break for the playoffs. For the duration of the playoffs we will see no construction happening along 17th Avenue in order to support the businesses there,” area Coun. Evan Woolley said Friday.
“This was deliberate. This was done in conjunction with many conversations with the (business improvement area) as well as individual businesses who are keen to see people move freely along the avenue.”
Businesses along 17th Avenue S.W. have endured disruptions since 2017 when construction crews first began tearing up the roadway and sidewalks to complete major upgrades to the 100-year-old utilities between Macleod Trail and 14th Street S.W.
Road work had been expected to resume sometime in mid-April, but will now be largely suspended for as long as the Flames are in the playoffs. And with fans speculating about the prospect of a long spring-time playoff run, restaurant and bar owners are feeling optimistic for the first time in a long time.
“It’s great news,” said Jamesons Pub owner Steve Marakis. “In the last couple of years, with the construction that’s been going on 17th, (it’s) turned away a lot of people who have gone elsewhere and don’t want to be bothered with trying to make their way through 17th Avenue. I’m hoping we can rekindle the excitement that we had in the past with a Flames run and that’ll draw a lot more people to 17th Avenue, which will be great for all the businesses.”
Trolley 5 owner Ernie Tsu said the Flames’ playoff run is coming at just the right time. “It’s not just the businesses. I think the city in general needs it,” he said. “It’s a different energy needed for a street that’s been under duress for the last two years.”
Alongside the construction headaches, businesses in the area have had to contend with a slump in the economy and huge hikes in property taxes or rents as a result of plunging downtown property values that have triggered a redistribution of the tax burden to non-residential properties outside the core.
Businesses have seen their property tax bills increase by an average of 140 per cent since 2016, according to a survey conducted by the 17th Avenue BIA. The BIA also counted 29 closures following the holiday season, according to data presented to city council earlier this month.
“To have construction that’s slowing down your business (while) taxes are increasing makes zero sense,” Tsu said. “The city wants to create more jobs, but more doors are closing and those numbers don’t lie.”
Last year, the city temporarily paused construction during Stampede to allow unfettered access to patios and bars along the avenue. This year, feedback from business owners led the city to conclude that avoiding construction during the playoffs was a priority.
“After reviewing it with our construction contractors, we managed to come up with a plan for this year where we can complete the work we were looking to complete while still avoiding all of the Flames’ playoff run — regardless if they go through to the final round,” said Quinn Eastlick, a spokesperson for the city.
Weather permitting, the city hopes to have completed all the underground utility work and road construction by the end of this season, Eastlick said, leaving only some sidewalk upgrades left in 2020.
While there are weeks of traffic tie-ups and detours still on the horizon, 17th Avenue business owners are daring to hope the Flames, with a playoff spot clinched, will keep winning deep into the post-season.
“A Flames run like this can mean a big difference,” Marakis said.
“We’re all crossing our fingers. We’re hoping to have a deep playoff run. I hope they make it to the finals; that would be fantastic.”