The latest announcement that the Eglinton Crosstown LRT will be delayed by about a year means "more trouble on trouble" for businesses in the Little Jamaica area, one restaurant owner said.
Sheryl Bryan Phillips, who owns Sheryl's Caribbean Cuisine — a small restaurant serving authentic Caribbean dishes at 1720 Eglinton Ave. W. — said she learned about the latest delay from a construction worker who came to her shop for lunch.
"Next year? Are you kidding me?" was her reaction on hearing the bad news.
"We're struggling enough already with this LRT … and I just can imagine what's gonna happen to us small business on Eglinton," Bryan Phillips told CBC Radio's Metro Morning.
The 19-kilometre light rapid transit line was scheduled to be up and running by the end of this year. A source with knowledge of the situation told CBC Toronto the earliest the line could open now is this time next year.
In a statement on Metrolinx's website on Friday, president and CEO Phil Verster said the Eglinton Crosstown is delayed and will not be in operation this fall as expected. He did not provide a new date for the launch of the service.
"Unfortunately, while progress has been made, Crosslinx Transit Solutions have fallen behind schedule, are unable to finalize construction and testing, and therefore the system will not be operational on this timeline," Verster said in the statement.
The major issues causing the delay are primarily related to construction of underground stations, the source said, particularly at the Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue stop.
Businesses barely hanging on, Bryan Phillips says
Bryan Phillips's restaurant, in operation for more than seven years, bills itself as "Bringing the Taste of the Island to you." On its walls, there are photos of Bob Marley and retired Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt.
But spots like hers are struggling, she said. And after suffering through more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said, they are now facing another devastating blow.
"We're [hanging] by a thread already with the pandemic. [We're] barely [hanging] on. When is this going to be over with and let people get back to their normal life?" she asked.
"We want to make plans but how can we plan in this kind of uncertainty? We're not sure, we don't know what's going to happen."
Bryan Phillips said Metrolinx should commit to a firm timeline as step one.
For now, Bryan Phillips is "praying to God and hoping" that the restaurant makes it through one more year.
"We want to hold on for the community, but it's [a struggle,] she said.
Little Jamaica deserves compensation, MPP says
Meanwhile, NDP MPP Jill Andrew said the latest delay is "piling on the devastation for businesses in the Toronto-St. Paul's riding."
"Black-owned businesses in Little Jamaica as well as other small business owners across midtown deserve better than constant and costly delays and disruptions," Andrew said in a statement on Friday.
"Our community wants accountability and deserves a public report on the impact that this construction has had on our region, especially for those hardest-hit."
While noting that the Eglinton Crosstown was supposed to be open in September 2020, Andrew said "the never-ending delays prove that public-private partnerships are a scam that we shouldn't keep falling for."
She said that in light of this further disruption, the government should immediately pass her motion for the Little Jamaica & Midtown Small Business and Community Economic Health and Wellness Strategy.
"This includes needs-based financial compensation for small businesses that continue to be impacted by the decade-long LRT construction, and mandated timely and transparent communication to the community from Metrolinx, the Ministry of Transportation, and Ministry of Small Businesses," Andrew said.
Last year Little Jamaica received a federal grant of $1 million over three years to help it sustain Black-owned businesses.
The grant, from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, has enabled the opening of a satellite office of the Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA), a non-profit charitable organization formed in 1983 that serves to address equity and opportunity for the Black community in business, employment, education and economic development.