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Business owners call for greater security as part of ByWard Market revival

The city of Ottawa's finance and corporate services committee unanimously approved a new plan for the ByWard Market that includes dissolving the ByWard Market BIA and exploring a "special area levy" to support the area.

But local business owners who spoke to the committee had a common theme about a lack of safety and security in the market, and the perception the area has because of it.

One of the mandates of the new ByWard Market District Authority would be to undertake initiatives to improve public safety, but public speakers, who said they were supportive of establishing the new authority, were much stronger in their language about the problems they perceive in the market.

Crime in the ByWard Market has been a perennial issue at city hall.

According to publicly available crime statistics from the Ottawa Police Service, Rideau-Vanier Ward, which includes the market, had the highest rate of violent crime compared to other wards in 2021 and was second in overall crime rate behind Somerset Ward. It also had the highest number of calls for service. Crime rates declined in Rideau-Vanier ward between 2020 and 2021, police statistics show, but calls for service were up slightly. 

Brian Lahey, secretary of the Properties Group, told committee that security should be the first priority.

"Shoplifting, aggressive panhandling and having vagrants sleeping on the sidewalk is destroying the daytime activity," he said. "Nighttime security is also an issue. Gangs and shootings must stop. Without a return to normality on security issues, our market is severely threatened."

Steve Ball, president of the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association, said tourism will be critical to the survival of the market and downtown Ottawa, with more local residents working from home.

"I've been sounding the alarm bells for several years now that we are at a tipping point as to whether the ByWard Market remains a key tourism asset for this city," he said.

Catherine Callary, vice-president of destination development at Ottawa Tourism, said the ByWard Market is a key attraction and tourism anchor, but many visitors report poor experiences.

"Unfortunately, a quick look at any travel review site about Ottawa's ByWard Market demonstrates that the stories of many visitors are currently not helping our brand," she said. "These negative reviews risk deterring future visitors, or worse, they make convention and major event planners want to choose other cities."

Stephen Beckta, the owner of Play Food and Wine in the market, said that in order to be successful, the market needs to have a reputation for being safe for visitors and residents alike.

"I firmly believe that any success in restoring the market to the crown jewel that it once was must start with safety and security," he said. "If people don't feel safe, they won't visit, plain and simple."

Beckta said he supports Mayor Mark Sutcliffe's campaign promise to bring more police to the ByWard Market, but he also called for more investment in social supports. The ByWard Market is close to or contains shelter services including the Ottawa Mission, the Shepherds of Good Hope, and the Salvation Army Booth Centre.

Kitchissippi Ward Coun. Jeff Leiper said policing isn't the only thing that will help improve conditions in the ByWard Market.

"The Market needs to recognize the fact that it is the place for all kinds of people, and that feeling of community safety for everyone isn't something that is accomplished through policing," he said. 

"A big part of the perception that the area is unsafe is because there is a lot of visible homelessness. There is visible drug use or a lot of people who are experiencing challenges associated with addiction, and I think that is the prime contributor to safety. Those are not issues you solve with policing."

The mayor promised to establish a community resource centre in the market and said he supports the limited use of CCTV cameras in high-risk areas. It's unclear when that plan will come to fruition.

Sutcliffe said a new community resource centre could be a solution.

"Those conversations are continuing and I think they will be part of a multi-faceted solution for the ByWard Market," he said.

"I think there are other steps that we need to take. We need to provide more support for the most vulnerable residents and the people who are suffering from substance use disorder or mental illness, we need to provide more resources that help some of those organizations that help those individuals," he added. "I think we need more of a police presence at times in the market, when there are issues related to crime; not to address mental illness issues but to address when there are crimes being committed. There are concerns about shoplifting and other things that have happened and, of course, there have been shootings in the ByWard Market as well, but I think there is a bunch of different things that are happening here, all of which will contribute to a safer environment for residents, for patrons of the market, and for people who work in the ByWard Market as well."


A special area levy to support the new ByWard Market District Authority is an option that staff will explore to support the authority.

Unlike a BIA levy, which is only applied to commercial properties, a special area levy is applied to all properties within a defined area. Staff said Tuesday that money raised by such a levy could only be used for initiatives that provide a community benefit. It cannot be used for operating expenses.

Full details about the levy have yet to be determined.

It would also take time to establish. Court Curry, manager of right of way, heritage and urban design services said it would require buy-in from the community.

"A special levy is not a city-wide levy," he explained. "It would only ever be brought forward following community dialog of specific projects, a community referendum administered by Elections Ottawa and for city council approval. This is a multi-month, multi-year process, should the value proposition be there and should the community be supportive."

The report also includes a one-time $200,000 payment to establish the new ByWard Market District Authority and $100,000 in one-time funding to leverage other potential partnerships to mark the Parkdale Market's 100th anniversary in 2024.

The other recommendations in the report include:

New public spaces: Confirm funding from upper levels of government for the William Street and ByWard Market Square street renewal and the creation of the York Street plaza.

70 Clarence Street: Staff recommend the city confirm funding for the redevelopment of the 70 Clarence Street municipal parking garage. The ByWard Market Public Realm Plan proposed turning the aging parking garage into a public space.

The report will be presented to full city council June 14.

--With files from CTV News Ottawa's Josh Pringle and Tyler Fleming. Top Stories

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