Businesses still split on right-of-way impact

Streetcars run along the St. Clair right-of-way
STILL CONTROVERSIAL: The St. Clair Right-of-Way, which finished construction June 30, 2010, continues to see split opinions on its impact. One business owner said it has had no impact, while another blames it for the closure of many businesses along St. Clair.

It’s been nearly five years since construction of the St. Clair Right-of-Way was completed, and businesses still have differing opinions of how the project turned out.

The five-year mark will be reached officially June 30 for the project, which for years was a controversial talking point for businesses, commuters and residents alike.

Now, businesses still can’t agree.

Henry Nguyen, who runs Danny’s Vacuum Cleaners on St. Clair a block west of Oakwood Avenue, doesn’t like the right-of-way project, and blames the city for causing the closure of many businesses along the St. Clair strip.

“The government killed everybody,” said Nguyen, who moved into his St. Clair location partway through construction seven years ago. “People ask me how business is, I say don’t ask me, just look at how many stores are empty from here to Dufferin.”

He said he counts himself lucky that most of his business is done outside the shop, installing central vacuum systems in homes, otherwise he too would be out of business.

The lack of parking has caused a lot of problems. He said he once had two customers in a single day come in to pick up their freshly fixed vacuums, only to return to their cars and discover they’d received $104 parking tickets. Those customers, he said, haven’t come back.

But not everyone has had such a bad experience.

Owner of Pannonia Books, Zsolt Bede, says the right-of-way hasn’t impacted him that much.

“For me, it’s okay,” he said, adding about half his customers drive and the other half take TTC. “It looks good and for the streetcar, it’s fast.”

Bede said it’s the nearby construction of a condo and townhouses that cause him more traffic problems than the right-of-way. But he added that traffic is bad in general in Toronto, and doesn’t see any negative impacts from the right-of-way.

“I don’t see any problem with the business,” he said. “No one told me they’re not going to come because of this.”

Councillor Joe Mihevc reflected on the project saying he hopes people recognize the “short term pain was for long term gain.”

“I think frankly it has contributed to remaking St. Clair,” he said. “I would agree that the construction process was difficult, however St. Clair now is positioned to be one of the major liveable streets for the next 50 years.”

During construction, infrastructure was also replaced, including water and sewer pipes, hydro lines and gas pipes.

Mihevc said now that the work is done, the development community “has noticed St. Clair”

“I’ve lived on or near St. Clair almost my whole life and we’ve never had anybody interested in developing anything on St. Clair,” he said, adding there are now 10 development sites just in his ward that are “finished or in some process of developing.”

Mihevc also said if there was one thing he’d do differently, it’s a lesson he’s learned from what’s being done by Metrolinx on Eglinton now during the Crosstown LRT construction.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned is communication, communication, communication,” he said. “There has to be a team that’s part of the senior project management telling residents what’s happening, why it’s happening, build events around it and try to support the local businesses throughout the process.

“It would have been better (if we had that),” he added. “I think it’s better if people understand their current pain is linked to long-term gain.”