By Mike Williscraft
It was good and long-awaited news for many when Premier Doug Ford announced Monday that Niagara would be among the regions getting the Phase 2 re-opening green light this Friday.
The move comes as most businesses attempt to recover from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most businesses are now permitted to be open with all prescribed social distancing measures in place. For some, like restaurants which are only allowed to open for customers with patio service, not having any capacity for inside service is still stifling.
“This progress is due to the hard work of residents in Niagara who have taken the steps necessary to flatten the curve,” said Sam Oosterhoff, MPP for Niagara West, in a press release.
“Although this does not mean the danger of COVID-19 has disappeared and we remain vigilant, it provides hope for families and job creators who have been looking forward to some semblance of normalcy. I will keep listening to families, individuals, municipalities and job creators as we move Niagara into recovery mode from COVID-19.”
The issue of further measures to help the business community was part of an extended debate at Grimsby council on Monday night.
The discussion touched on everything from possible short- and long-term closures on Main Street in the core to extended patios for restaurants either using sidewalks or the street with utilization of parking spaces for patios, where possible, also part of the mix.
“There is lots of controversy about closing downtown whether it be nights, weekends or permanent. I don’t know what the right answer is,” said Coun. Reg Freake, who also sits on the Grimsby Downtown Improvement Area board, who suggested a study or survey on the topic.
“We don’t want anyone suffering. We need to hear from them [businesses] all.”
Coun. Randy Vaine said he would “strongly oppose” any move to remove parking spaces from the mix, adding that he is still getting complaints about the traffic and parking issues from when the Grimsby Farmers Market was on Main Street every Thursday in the summer. The market has moved to Peach King Centre this year.
“Keep parking open. Keep the street open,” said Vaine.
Coun. Dave Kadwell agreed, somewhat, with Vaine, noting, “I’m not excited about closing the street.”
Coun. Lianne Vardy said council needs to be prepared to be creative and flexible when it comes to possible solutions.
“We may want to try a couple of pilots, to rethink how we want to see Main Street,” said Vardy.
“Now is the time to think of that.”
CAO Harry Schlange noted a design charette “after recovery and to prepare for the long haul.”
Vaine noted that any moves done which may help some should not be at the expense of others.
“Some merchants are strongly opposed to any closure…we cannot give up any parking. It would be a horrible, horrible move,” said Vaine.
Coun. Dave Sharpe agreed noting he, too, heard many complaints from residents regarding traffic issues when Main Street was closed.
Noting Grimsby’s geographical challenges, he said the town is not in a position to consider an extended closure for Main Street.
“We have a small number of East/West corridors,” said Sharpe, noting both a closure on the South Service Road for Road repairs and a closure of the Elm Street bridge for repairs created significant traffic issues of late, adding that QEW traffic issues also contribute to Main Street’s traffic flow volume.
If the street were closed long-term he said, the vast majority of time would be a waste.
“You would get to the barricade and ask, ‘Why is this closed’,” said Sharpe of any off-peak times or days with poor weather.
“I am not going to support closing Main Street completely.”
The matter was referred to the Town’s Emergency Operations Centre for further review.
In Lincoln, CAO Mike Kirkopoulos said Lincoln staff is preparing for Phase 2 by working with bars and restaurant owners. Weekly activities and swimming pools will also be open.