You have used the phrase 'reclaiming an historic downtown street for public and private use.' It has always had public and private uses, and it is not yours to reclaim.
Sparks Street is one of Ottawa's oldest streets, a bustling commercial area since the latter part of the 19th century. Featuring many of Ottawa's finest historical buildings, it's just one block south of Wellington Street, a stone's throw from Parliament. Since the 50's, however, removal of the streetcar network, elimination of residential uses and suburbanisation sent Sparks Street into a gradual decline. In an attempt to revitalize the street, it was turned into a pedestrian mall in 1966.
All roads lead to Sparks - at least they used to. Not long after this map was prepared, Greber submitted his plan to remove rail from Ottawa
Concerned about development in the area, in 1973 Public Works expropriated all buildings not already owned by the government on the north side of the street, while the NCC gradually began acquiring properties on the south side. Since then, the street has changed little, receiving an occasional facelift, but unable to halt its slow decay as a place of commerce. Today, it gets by on the lunch and tourist trade. At lunch on workdays, the street is quite busy, but in the evenings, the street is deserted.
Having essentially done nothing with the buildings it owns on Sparks Street for 30 years, a period during which buildings were demolished and replaced with parking lots, the NCC suddenly became preoccupied with the area's revitalization -- in 1999, they were discovered to be paying $9.2 million for a building on the south side of the street ($6 million or so more than its assessed value). The NCC subsequently had to fess up the fact that they had received $40 million to implement a huge development on the south side, between O'Connor and Metcalfe. The plan, a remnant of the Metcalfe Grand Boulevard fiasco, involved demolishing and moving heritage buildings on the north and south sides of the street at Metcalfe to create a square (including moving the old U.S. embassy and converting it into a national portrait gallery), putting a parking lot under the square, and replacing an entire block on the south side with a massive new development.
Citizen: NCC Floats New Proposal [10 Aug 1999]
Having learned nothing from the Metcalfe fiasco, the NCC worked on the elaborate plan in secret. The city, Sparks St merchants, everyone in fact, except for a group of Liberal MPs, learned about the plan from the papers. Not surprisingly, stiff opposition to the plan formed, asking the obvious questions, such as:
Citizen: Coalition to Rein in NCC [18 Jan 2000]
In May 2001, the NCC announced it had acquired another building, but its plans were stymied somewhat when the Bank of Nova Scotia, in the middle of the block, "demanded too much for its property." As a result, in September 2001, the NCC announced a scaled down development for the stretch between O'Connor and the Bank of Nova Scotia, in partnership with Truscan Property Corp. The $60 million development would incorporate an office tower facing Queen Street, and residences and retail facing Sparks Street. The buildings facing Sparks are to be demolished, but the facades preserved.
Finally, in 2003, they announced details of an agreement with developers to build the development, to consist of 90,000 square feet of office space, 6,000 square feet of retail space, 36 apartments and 200 parking spaces. The NCC chose not to put the multi-million dollar development up for tender, and the deal involves some curious financing whereby the NCC has guaranteed to lease the development from the developer at higher than market rates for 20 years. Public Works will lease the space back from the NCC.
And then, out of the blue, at their annual meeting in November 2003, Chairman Beaudry announced the NCC would not proceed with the plaza/parking garage part of their plan after all, in effect leaving the mall with a reasonably desirable development without demolishing the north side of the street. The story of how the NCC arrived at this obvious result after innumerable studies and millions of dollars spent could no doubt fill more than a few filing cabinets. Great work guys, we salute you!
CBC: Discussing the future of Sparks Street Mall [16 Jul 2001]