Churchill Square redesign will revitalize neighbourhood, says deputy mayor

·3 min read
St. John's Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O'Leary says a new and improved Churchill Square will focus on accessibility.   (Eddy Kennedy/CBC - image credit)
St. John's Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O'Leary says a new and improved Churchill Square will focus on accessibility. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC - image credit)
St. John's Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O'Leary says a new and improved Churchill Square will focus on accessibility.
St. John's Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O'Leary says a new and improved Churchill Square will focus on accessibility. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Churchill Square in St. John's will soon be getting a $3-million makeover, after city council approved a plan earlier this week to revitalize the shopping area.

Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O'Leary noted the area's history and importance to the community, and said the city wants to emphasize pedestrian accessibility.

"We wanted to make sure that there is an area that people can walk through freely, safely, that's highly accessible, not only to pedestrians, but to persons with disabilities," she told CBC on Wednesday.

The city consulted design studio Mills & Wright Landscape Architecture on the initial concept art for the reimagined Churchill Square, which was released last month.

O'Leary said the city hopes a new and improved Churchill Square, with a focus on multi-use outdoor space, will revitalize an area that has long been an intersection for a number of different demographics.

"The Churchill Square area is a wonderful composite of a real mixed demographic. We've got a lot of seniors in the area, we've got a lot of students at the schools, and of course the university," she said.

"We've got a really thriving business district as well that has gone through major changes over the past several decades."

The Mills & Wright plan includes ideas like drive-in movie nights, ball hockey tournaments, food truck festivals, as well as outdoor concerts.

Mixed reaction to concept

While the plan aims to turn the square into a hub of community activity, area residents in 2018 balked at the idea of Ribfest, a four-day food festival proposed for Churchill Park, on the other side of Elizabeth Avenue.

But with the revitalization of the square, and in particular the renovation of what was once a Dominion grocery store, O'Leary said, there will be a lot more people living in the area.

"There's no doubt that we need to have further engagement about the activities that will happen in that area," said O'Leary.

"And certainly the business district, as well as the people who live in the local area, will have lots of opportunities to have that say."

A variety of multipurpose options — from sports to outdoor movies to a food truck festival — are suggested for Churchill Square's large parking lot.
A variety of multipurpose options — from sports to outdoor movies to a food truck festival — are suggested for Churchill Square's large parking lot. (City of St. John's)

More than 2,000 St. John's residents have provided their thoughts on the plan, via sending in their feedback and voting in polls, and O'Leary said there will be more public engagement to come before things are finalized.

Some said with the parking lot remaining a dominant feature, the reimagining didn't go far enough.

"There's always going to be various opinions and you'll never satisfy everybody perfectly, but striking the balance is the most important thing when you engage with the public," said O'Leary.

"This is a first concept plan on how we can improve the area for a multitude of people that are served in the Churchill Square area, and I'm very excited about its potential."

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