If you haven't done it recently (and don't mind playing frogger
with construction equipment), take a walk across Waldegrave and
explore the west end of downtown. The place is full of of
construction - and even where shovels aren't in the ground or steel
in the sky, there are plans being made.
At this moment, there are two active construction sites - the
much-discussed new Fortis
Place at George St. West and Springdale and the less -discussed
new Steele hotel going in at George St. West and Prince St
(image here -
bottom row centre). There's also an approved addition to the
building housing Stantec (image here),
and a Hilton planned for the corner of Springdale and New Gower (
image here). A bit farther west, this
development is planned for the bottom of Hamilton Avenue
(though it's hard to know whether it's going to happen).
While there aren't any official plans out there, it's also a
good bet that a few other sites are going to see redevelopment over
the next few years. The Ultramar on New Gower and Waldegrave is an
obvious one - some of the early renderings for the new convention
centre extension even showed a pedway across the street to whatever
goes there! The parking lot next to the Delta is another. The
blocks of older buildings along Springdale and Buchanan Streets are
probably also up for grabs - plenty are boarded up already. To make
a long story short, we may see a majority of the area rebuilt over
the next little while.
Check out this map of all the under
While it's hard to say what exactly will be in the new municipal
plan or development regulations, we've heard quite a bit of support
in the community for the location of taller buildings in the area.
There's certainly lots of interest from developers in building new
Class A office space, and there seems to be much more willingness
to let high-rises spring up in the West End than farther east.
So, St. John's has a pretty big opportunity on its hands. We're
essentially building a whole new downtown west of Waldegrave, and
it's private demand that's driving it. There will be hundreds, if
not thousands of new employees working in the area (we haven't seen
any residential proposals yet), with all the benefits that brings
for downtown businesses that serve them.
One thing we haven't seen much of, though, is thinking about the
area as a whole. A few things come to mind:
The area of Downtown West that's seeing the most change is
bounded by Water St. West (6 lanes), Waldegrave St (3 lanes), New
Gower St (5 lanes) and Pitts Memorial Drive (an expressway).
The whole area is primarily designed to funnel cars into and
out of the downtown, something that often happens at high speeds.
Sidewalks are fairly narrow for the most part, and the intersection
of Water and Waldegrave has channeled right turn lanes with yield
signs, which drivers tend to treat like onramps. Moving
farther west, the western stretch of older commercial buildings is
cut off by Pitts Memorial Drive.
Not so friendly if you're on
While this end of downtown was a dead zone, this probably made
some sense from a traffic engineering perspective. Now that this
area of town is becoming something much more like the rest of
downtown - full of hotels, offices, restaurants, and (likely)
stores, is this a sustainable situation? As the neighbourhood
currently is, there is a definite disincentive for employees there
to cross these roads and walk to other destinations downtown - or
for shoppers to come down this way. So what could be done? A few
ideas come to mind, some more costly than others:
- Put Water Street and New Gower Street on road diets.
Reduce the lanes, narrow the streets, build wider sidewalks and
boulevards between them and the road.
- Redesign the intersections to make them more
- Start treating George St. West as the pedestrian gateway to the
neighbourhood. Unlike the other streets nearby, George St. West is
still pedestrian-scaled. Could a set of lights or other pedestrian
crossing features be added there?
Do you have any other ideas for making this end of
downtown more accessible to pedestrians? Comment down
One downside to all of these strategies is that none of them
make it more accessible from the West. The onramps to Pitts
Memorial are a pretty big barrier - but it's hard to imagine how
they could be reconfigured not to be, without taking the whole
thing down. Lots of big cities have done just that - could
St. John's be ready for it?
There are certainly concerns about commercial traffic, too -
lots of big trucks from the port use all these roads to get things
in and out of town. Finally, if you've ever driven through there at
rush hour, it can indeed be a parking lot - though that begs the
question of whether it makes sense to design roads around their
Mix of buildings and uses in the
Right now, Downtown West is an interesting mix. You have some
heritage structures (if you've never been inside George St. United
Church, go in - it's gorgeous), some older commercial buildings
with stores above (like these on New Gower), a few interesting (and
rare) bits of 30s/40s architecture, some older homes in pretty
rough shape, and some older commercial buildings. Across the
roads, you find the Convention Centre, the Delta Hotel, and the
There are still a few houses and
apartments on the sidestreets
The question needs to be asked: what do we want this
neighbourhood to look like, and how do we get there? So far, most
construction has been on empty land. That will likely change.
Should the city allow the older buildings to be knocked down and
replaced, or should we protect them? Is that fair to their owners,
who might otherwise be able to sell them for redevelopment?
Right now, the area has two places to eat, and not a single
café. With tons of office workers and hotel guests pouring in,
there will be businesses looking to capitalize. How should we
accommodate them? Right now, there is plenty of empty commercial
space in existing buildings there. If these buildings were
replaced, there might be newer, shinier commercial space on the
ground floors - but the rent would probably be a lot higher,
pricing independent businesses out of the market. It's also worth
thinking about how the big new buildings will relate to the
neighbourhood at street level - how can we make it feel like the
other areas of downtown? Should we even try?
Businesses will give several reasons for locating downtowns.
Easy connections with other businesses is one. Employee
satisfaction is another - people like to be able to step out of
their office to run an errand, or buy lunch, or meet someone to
plan a new idea. We're also hearing a lot from employers that
employees want to live in the centre of town and walk to
work. All these things are what makes office space in the rest of
downtown so popular; will we be able to duplicate that in Downtown
It's also worth remembering that quite a lot of people live
quite close to Downtown West. Look up Springdale Street into the
West End, or up to the dense neighbourhoods just above the Delta.
Are there things we could do as a city to help integrate this new
downtown area with the residential neighbourhoods around it? Would
this be a good spot for that downtown grocery store that people
often dream about, a library, or a community centre?
Finally, we should remember that Downtown West is a critical
part of St. John's efforts to take care of its most vulnerable
people. The Salvation Army provides a ton of services from its
buildings there. The Jimmy Pratt centre next door is also an
important part of this picture. In many cities, the development of
previously run-down parts of the downtown has put pressure on these
services, sometimes forcing them out to places that are much harder
for their clients to access. Are there ways we could help ensure
that these agencies and the people they serve still have a home
Unsurprisingly, we think this is worth a conversation!
Do you have some great ideas for the neighbourhood? Have
you heard about plans that we haven't? Do you know some people who
should be involved in the conversation? Post in the comments here
or on Facebook. We're looking to organize some in-person
dialogue about this soon - hearing your ideas will help guide us in
figuring out who we should try and get in the room. We're
excited to hear what you have to say!
The development enthusiasts over at Skyscraperpage St.
John's have done a sterling job at digging up and discussing
renders for projects proposed and ongoing, several of which we've
linked to here - check out their great forum on development by