Merchants in Ste-Anne de Bellevue are torn over the possibility of closing off a section of main street to allow for a weekend pedestrian mall. Mayor Francis Deroo has spoken openly about his support for the initiative and has asked Warren Williams, president of Ste Anne Societe de Development Commercial (SDC) to call an SDC meeting to put it to a vote.
"The merchants are torn. There is not a consensus," Williams said in an interview. Some merchants who also reside in Ste-Anne are perplexed at the timing. "They question why now when Ste Anne is still in a mess," says Williams.
With plans to revitalize the city still underway Williams thinks a pedestrian mall might be a little premature. After a series of fires and the infamous parking meters still firmly in place, to be removed sometime after April 30th, the city still has a lot of rebuilding to do.
"The East end of town, after the fire, is fixed up and Marcos will be done rebuilding in two months," says Williams. "But who really knows, maybe [a pedestrian mall] would be good promotion- momentum for when the [revitalization of the] center of town in complete."
Deroo requested the SDC call a rushed meeting tonight to get feedback on the proposed pedestrian mall before the April 27th council meeting.
"The merchants need to use tonight as their chance to step forward and say what the space should be used for," says Williams, adding to open in the month of May as suggested in the Montreal Gazette would be highly ambitious.
Worried a barricaded area reserved for pedestrians would block traffic and remove valuable parking space, merchants have expressed concern over losing their town to "destination" traffic- people from across the west island flocking to Ste-Anne. Williams, unsure to what extent merchants can survive on business from residents alone, is trying to stay neutral in the matter.
"I'm all for Ste-Anne being distinct in the West Island from villages like Pointe Claire," says Williams, adding it remains to be seen how much merchants rely on pedestrian traffic.
Part of the problem is the lack of a real vision for the area. Merchants are not yet clear on what area along main street will be sectioned off, how it will be sectioned off, or even what it will look like. There has been discussion the pedestrian mall would stretch from Ste Pierre street (Daoust Department Store) to as far as the bridge, or perhaps stop at the Subway. Ideas for the sectioned off area include adding park benches, floral displays, or perhaps feature plays-in-the-park. It will all be put on the table at the SDC meeting tonight.
Williams is confident Deroo has done his best to put a positive spin on the idea. "The Mayor says the road closures will be more than just barricades. The idea is to have the closures manned by tourist information people offering Ste Anne booklets and maps indicating new parking areas." A way to draw attention to the many changes in the downtown core.
Tonight's SDC meeting will work towards reaching a consensus among the merchants of Ste-Anne. "The best approach might be to do a trial run in June and July," Williams suggested. "The bottom line is the merchants will have to drive this- so they have to want it."