Greater Sudbury’s downtown is starting to look a lot more natural these days with the transformation of what used to be empty spaces into what will be one long greenway cutting across the city's core.
The city’s Downtown Master Plan of 2012 called for major improvements to the downtown core, which included plans for public spaces to attract people.
Several individual projects have been progressing during the summer, with completion of all of them by the start of winter.
Two of those projects, the Brady Green Stairs and the renovation of the courtyard at Tom Davies Square, are nearing completion. The courtyard has been under construction for nearly a year and a half. The green stairs have been under construction since this spring.
The plan is to have an accessible pedestrian pathway cutting through the city's downtown, giving users a safe and easy pathway, while funneling them to points of interest, shopping, services and dining, while developing the urban ecosystem.
Those projects will be linked to the Elgin Street Greenway, which is planned to go from Larch Street to the Nelson Street Parkette.
Here is a breakdown of the plans and progress of the projects:
Tom Davies Square Courtyard
The courtyard was designed to be a focal point for residents. Originally built in the 1960s, it was a gathering place with a water feature that dominated the space, paving stones, benches and some green space. In the winter, it was a skating rink.
Over the decades, the courtyard fell out of favour and the space was used less and less. The sparse environment did not attract many people and was a stark contrast to neighbouring Memorial Park.
It also serves as rooftop for an underground parking garage, which has been leaking for years, creating structural and electrical hazards.
Kevin Fowke, general manager of corporate services, said the master plan called for a redesign of the courtyard that would flow into Memorial Park and beyond.
Now, with the city eager to regenerate the downtown core, it is undergoing an $8.5-million renovation to make it not only attractive, but safer and stronger.
“It's not just about beautifying the courtyard, it's also an integral part of the square's structure and it needs to be repaired and waterproofed,” said Fowke. “Over time, it will flow to the Brady Green Stairs, also under construction, and up to the Elgin Street Greenway.”
Starting repairs at Tom Davies Square was imperative, as it is the seat of government and was no longer visually appealing. This is also about maintaining a building that is in an ecologically sensitive area. Junction Creek flows under the building, and there are people and vehicles inside the structure.
“We have to be very careful from an asset management point of view to make sure that they are maintained,” he said.
“It may look like to the average person we are putting in a nice courtyard, but we are also working to maintain a space in terms of shoring up and making sure we have an impervious coating on the garage ceiling.”
The structure needed to be stripped down to replace the waterproofing membrane, as well as other structural repairs.
The feeling they want to invoke, Fowke said, was of life around nearby Ramsay Lake and the northern wilderness around the city.
The centrepiece will be a stonework image of Ramsey Lake where the fountain used to be. Surrounding it will be spaces designed to look like docks, complete with wooden boards. There will be concrete spaces and a raised stage for special events like flag-raisings and presentations.
Art installations, depicting canoes and chairs, will also reflect the lake lifestyle.
Next to the main building there are garden beds with trees and shrubs from around the region, including wind-swept white pines.
Fowke said he hopes the project will be completed by the fall so the city can start have more events in the downtown again.
“We haven't had a lot of events in the downtown and we want to have this space act as a host,” he said. “If it's late, may be the Santa Claus Parade, for a more family-engaging place.”
The courtyard repairs included improvements to the second floor balcony. New paving stones were installed, as well as sealing on the podium at the building’s north side to stop leaks into the daycare area, offices and the Greater Sudbury Police Services headquarters, as well as the hallway between the police services, main building and west tower.
Bell Canada, located at the south side of the courtyard, has performed its own repairs, which Fowke said will make it that much easier to make the space more appealing. Next to the Bell building will be a grass-covered hill leading directly to Memorial Park.
The courtyard has undergone major repairs in the past. Locke explained in the 1990s, several tonnes of concrete had to be taken out from under the former water feature to lighten the load on the garage ceiling below.
The courtyard will be an additional space for people, he said. Nearby Memorial Park is already “a gem” for the downtown, attracting people during the summer months for lunches, activities and to just enjoy a moment in a green space inside the downtown core.
“People will detour just to go walk through the park,” he said. “It's a beautiful space.”
Brady-Durham Green Stairway
The downtown intersection of Elgin and Brady streets has undergone a radical redesign to make way for a green stair, giving pedestrians a safer pathway between Memorial Park and Elgin, as well as an aesthetically pleasing gathering spot.
“In the Downtown Master Plan, the need to have a link between Memorial Park and the businesses on Durham was identified,” said Kris Longston, project manager. “There wasn't that definitive link and we looked for an opportunity to create that link. It's all one, big continuous park we are trying to create through the downtown.”
The $1.2-million project serves not only as a pathway, but as a green buffer between the downtown and the rail lands, and to rejuvenate the section of the Trans-Canada Trail that runs through the downtown.
The opportunity for the stairway came two years ago when the storage area in that space needed demolition and reconstruction to support the hydro vault under the Durham and Brady ramp. They used that need for reconstruction to incorporate the project.
Since then, crews have been busy removing large sections of the concrete edifice that used to stand there. Most of it is being replaced with stairs, a multi-use concrete pathway, lighting, lockstone, trees, grass-covered terraces, seating areas, art installations and an open space Longston said will be multi-use.
At the bottom is an open area that will serve as an access to the hydro vault, as well as a space for entertainment and other programming, with water and electrical hookups.
Primarily, it's a path, but the city is incorporating elements to attract people. Public consultations showed users would want it to be a place for people to meet and socialize.
“It can host food trucks, bands, anything to attract people to the space and bring life to that part of the downtown,” he said.
The project is scheduled to be ready by this fall.
Longston said researching what used to exist in the city's core has been educational and fascinating, as well as inspiring.
“Back in the 1950s, it was alive with lights and colour,” he said. “It was a forest of neon signs, shops, and packed with people. We want to bring that sense of place and belonging back, but with the modern attitude of having more natural spaces.”
The Brady-Durham Green Stairways' space specifically had many incarnations. In the 1960s and 1970s it hosted a Volkswagen dealership. Over time, it became a welfare office and then a parkette with terraced gardens. It was closed to the public due to structural damage.
The Elgin Street Greenway is in the final stages of design and the city is seeking funding.