Worried about Queen Street? So am I …

PHOTO: Beach Metro News File

I am also worried about Queen Street!

A main street in a beautiful and popular area of the city should not have so many empty shops.

High rents notwithstanding, what are some of the other reasons businesses do not last? Possibly, the proprietors have not completed business plans that include financial forecasting for the low tourist season in the Beach? Possibly, the business concept, services being offered, wares being displayed are not enticing to potential patrons? Possibly, customer service is lacking? I am not sure if these are factors at all but at the end of the day, if we truly desire a vibrant retail strip in our area, it is up to us to support our businesses!

During my time in office, this has been a persistent issue. Here is what I have done for Queen Street in the past 7.5 years:

Repealed vacant property tax rebate (effective this July)

Property owners were entitled to a 30% tax break if their properties had been empty for 3 months or longer. It took some time and hard work, but the Province has now granted us the right to repeal it! Conclusion of the Vacant Unit Rebate Program

Lifted a 30 year old size restriction for our restaurants

In 1985, the Councillor at the time implemented the smallest size restriction in the city for any new proposed restaurant on Queen Street in the Beach. We heard from many west end restauranteurs that this configuration would not work for them nowadays so we have now implemented a more reasonable and appealing allowance. Queen Street East Restaurant Study – Final Report

Lifted the parking requirements for new businesses/restaurants?

Again this is an old requirement that was impeding new shopkeepers from coming to the Beach given the tight spacing for our buildings and hodgepodge of unique back lanes. We have many Toronto Parking Authority green P lots available, as well as, accessible transit, cycling and walking infrastructure! New businesses will now no longer be required to provide parking spaces.

Approved patios and boulevard cafes

While these are sometimes not welcomed by the surrounding community, I am a firm believer in animating our streets by allowing patrons of a restaurant to enjoy the outdoors. Unfortunately, when polled, some local residents repeatedly vote against applications for outdoor eating options. If the poll comes back negative, the applicant must wait 2 years before reapplying. I have fought hard for patios by overriding the negative polls when the application comes to Toronto East York Community Council. I recognize the value in on-street animation and feel it is for the greater good of the community. As a result, now both you and the owners of Sauvignon, Hero Burger, Tim Hortons, The Greenwood, Bodega Henriette, etc can enjoy a great meal in the sunshine!

Approved development applications for condos

More foot traffic helps our local businesses. Many seniors are overhoused in their family homes in the Beach and wish to age in place by downsizing and staying in the community. Many Beachers are buying condominiums in our neighbourhood. We want to add gentle density to our avenues instead of saturating our downtown with skyscrapers. And quite frankly, who wouldn’t want to live here?

Created Winter Stations

Wintertime can be quiet in the Beach. Businesses sometimes struggle to survive without the chaotic hustle and bustle of the summertime crowds. To that end, I wholeheartedly embraced the concept of art installations along the water’s edge with an international competition to attract the designers. Art meets nature meets fun! Thanks to Roland Rom Colthoff of Raw Architects and Ted Merrick of Ferris and Associates for the idea! Hundreds of Torontonians and people further afield are swarming down to enjoy our 6 week annual cultural exhibition on the Beach. Some are venturing up to Queen street to grab a bite to eat or purchase an item. I am working with the Beach Village BIA to encourage businesses to tap into the project by offering up Winter Stations specials and celebrations.

Championed Live Nation’s proposal

When Live Nation came to the city with a proposal for a new live music venue on Queen Street providing up to 2,700 music goers with 150 concerts a year, I said YES! Yes to vibrancy, to supporting our talented musicians, to waking up the sleepy east, to encouraging more foot traffic for our local businesses, and to ensuring Toronto becomes the true Music City we are crusading for. I think it is important that we are open to hosting a music venue in our wonderful east end as we continue to enjoy concerts at venues across the city. Stay tuned for a fall opening.

Promoted Woodbine Park Festivals

We are incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by gorgeous parks in Ward 32, not to mention Lake Ontario at our doorstep! Woodbine park was built as a city park to host an assortment of events. I have been a big proponent of encouraging more festivals to occur in this great green space. There is something for everyone all across the city to enjoy and celebrate at Woodbine Park each summer!

Supported the Beach Village BIA

Ward 32 is host to 5 Business Improvement Areas and 1 Business Community. These volunteer groups work tirelessly to promote our local businesses and help create vibrant main streets. The Beach Village BIA has hosted spectacular events over the years including their summer Movie Nights, Christmas Carolling, Music in the Park, and much more. They have engaged with Community Centre 55 to create murals on the planters and buildings to add a splash of colourful art to our streets. Their flowers and banners create a warm welcome to the Beach and their future plans include a master streetscaping plan. They have helped spearhead the refresh of Kew Gardens and will continue that idea over at Ivan Forrest Gardens in the future. We are fortunate to have such a strong and committed group of people on the BIA and we owe them many accolades for their efforts! #RoundOfApplause.

Facilitated the Kew Refresh

Many meetings, community consultations, in addition to outreach to artists, musicians, and youth occurred to help form the designs for the renovations at the entrance way to Kew Gardens. The Beach Village BIA, City Parks department, and my office worked with the community, including our working group, to modernize our park and create a more accessible and jazzy space for all to enjoy. The new configuration lends itself better for events which draw crowds from across the city and ward. It is stunning both day and night!

Hosted Queen Street Revival

Beachers were invited to a few large workshops to brainstorm ideas on improving Queen Street. Representatives from Beach Hill Neighbourhood Association (BHNA) spoke about the beautification work they have done on Gerrard Street. Danforth East Community Association (DECA) members spoke about their incredible success at creating Pop Up Shops in their empty storefronts which successfully reduced the vacancy rate by 10%. East End Arts spoke about the benefits of adding public art, events, and murals to a streetscape. My office worked hard to organize these well attended community gatherings. Residents seemed keen to take action however it does take concerted, continual action to succeed.

Crusaded for Stand Up Paddle Board and Bicycle Rental Kiosks

Many people have asked me over the years why they cannot rent a beach umbrella, beach chair, paddle board, or bicycle on the Beach. As a city-wide destination, I wondered the same and set out to solve it. To that end, last year we were finally able to allow for a few active recreational kiosks that would rent out bikes and paddle boards to passers-by. These ventures were highly successful! If you were not able to partake in the fun last year, please take part this summer. We feel the more animation and activation of our waterfront helps bring more people into our community including Queen Street.

Pushed for Bike Share to locate on Queen Street

The Martin Goodman Trail is a popular recreational path and vital commuting choice for many Torontonians. Bike share works on their expansion plans every summer. With our new Woodbine bike lanes, the Martin Goodman Trail, and the planned bike lanes for Danforth Avenue, it is high time Bike Share expanded further to our neck of the woods. Our 10 year Cycling Plan emphasizes the need for connectivity and so we want to be responsive with providing the necessary infrastructure and option for bike rental.

Enjoyed and Advocated for Queen Street Businesses

Whether I am attending a meeting, enjoying an evening at one of our establishments, or joining an event, I am regularly out and about on Queen Street. My office assists our current business owners and new potential entrepreneurs with their building permits, liquor licences, parking questions, patio requests, and much more. We also are happy to help advertize events at our shops and services and do so regularly in our bi-monthly electronic newsletter and on our social media.

With all of these efforts and initiatives, it is my hope that Queen Street will become revitalized and supported by more Torontonians right across the city.

But at the end of the day, it is truly up to our community to show dedication to our beautiful area. The number one thing YOU can do for Queen Street is: Eat, Shop, Play locally.

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