VANCOUVER (CityNews) – If you’re looking for a spot to dine outside, Gastown might be the place to check out.
The iconic neighbourhood is going by a different name this summer, with ‘Patiotown’ expected to accommodate up to 500 outdoor dining spaces with the hope of drawing in more pedestrian business.
“The weather just started to turn for us, so I think we’re going to see some good weeks ahead as people come down to support small business,” Eli Brennan, the owner of the Water Street Cafe, tells CityNews Vancouver.
Brennan is one of the many restaurant owners working through the challenges of having a business amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite struggles, he says new outdoor seating will hopefully attract more locals.
“Not going to lie, it’s difficult. A lot of our communities, little communities, are suffering,” Brennan says. “But I think that we’ll come together. It’s an opportunity. I think that locals are going to go down and kind of experience things maybe they haven’t experienced before. We always travel around the world to see everything, but we have so much in our backyard and Gastown is a special spot.”
Carrall street is also being shut down to vehicle traffic, making Gastown the largest patio area in the whole city, according to the Gastown Business Improvement Association.
‘Patiotown’ isn’t the only change the historic neighbourhood could see at some point. Over the last couple of years, the City of Vancouver has gathered input from the public on plans that could reduced the number of vehicles on Water Street and create more pedestrian-friendly spaces.
“We’ve taken a bit of a pause as we’ve gone back to do some analysis on that, and we’re hoping to start a conversation again relatively soon. Right now a lot of our engagements are kind of on hold while we sort out how to do them while with COVID,” Paul Storer, director of transportation with the city, explains. “But it’s a really important neighbourhood and there’s a lot of issues there to work through and we’re excited to start the conversation again.”
Reduced traffic in the area is something some business owners are wary of, but some say it might be a nice change.
“I can’t speak for everyone in Gastown, but for myself I think a reduced traffic pattern would be nice,” Brennan says. “But it’s hard to say.”
The Gastown Business Improvement Association has also completed an urban design study with several ideas, including a car-free Gastown. However, that, too, needs more research.
“It’s one of the things that we’re continuing to look at,” the Gastown BIA’s Walley Wargolet says. “I can’t say we’re for or against it, I think it’s just one of those things that we want to do some more kind of study on the impact that might have on the vibrancy of the neighbourhood.”
In the meantime, ‘Patiotown’ is set to run through the summer. It’s also being accompanied by a bike valet service and an art exhibit, which honours healthcare heroes Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.