Merchants along a stretch of Rideau Street are breathing a sigh of relief.

After over a year of construction, phase one of the $28.8 million Rideau Street Renewal project is almost complete. The downtown artery has been re-opened to two-way traffic from Dalhousie to Friel Street. Local merchants and politicians celebrated with a cake and ribbon-cutting Friday morning.

The project resulted in road closures and parking woes that hurt several local businesses. Some even closed. “The merchants have been put through a lot. But they get a lot out of it at the end,” said Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.

On the surface, the renewal means wider sidewalks, new light fixtures, and fewer overhead wires. But the bigger improvements are below-ground in the form of upgraded water and sewer infrastructure. It means the street can now handle more condo development. “The development possibilities mean that we will get a denser population of young professional people who are buying condos. I think that will change the face of Rideau Street quite a bit,” says Bytowne Cinema owner Bruce White. Mayor Watson calls it part of a Rideau Street renaissance that also includes the expansion of the Rideau Centre, the coming of light rail, and the revitalization of Arts Court just to the south on Daly Avenue.

Not everyone, however, is convinced a facelift will really change Rideau Street as long as it lies so close to the city’s major shelters for those struggling with addictions. “I don’t think so because you’ve still got rooming houses in the neighbourhood and that’s where the colourful characters are living,” points out local resident Ed Gardner.

Phase two of the Rideau Street Renewal, east of Friel Street, is still on-going and should be finished later this fall.