Four benches at the corner of Church and Alexander streets were removed Nov 15 following complaints from residents and business owners in the Alexus condo building on that corner.
The generous sidewalk space, statue of Alexander Wood and benches had made the area in front of the Alexus’s entrance on Alexander a popular hangout at all hours of the day and night. Residents complained that drug dealers and sex workers were frequenting the corner at night.
In a letter to business owners and residents (included below), Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam writes that residents complained of “noise disturbances and drug dealing in congregating crowds, particularly during the evening.”
She notes that the Greenwin Corporation, which manages the Alexus, and the Bank of Montreal own the benches and had agreed to remove them in response to the concerns.
“The proposal put forward has been to implement a community-led planning process to animate the public area at the corner to be a more positive, safe and welcoming space in the community,” she writes.
Not all of the businesses are happy to lose the outdoor seating. Duncan Minnis, who owns the Timothy’s coffee shop next door to the Bank of Montreal, says removing the benches may be bad for business.
“I’m not particularly in favour. I lose seating for my customers who hang out there,” he says.
But Minnis also says that residents had valid concerns about safety on the corner.
“It’s getting kind of rough out there at night,” he says. He says the area has become safer since he began working with the police and calling whenever he noticed undesirable people hanging out near his café.
“In the last one and a half months, it’s cleared up quite a bit,” he says. “I think we need more police presence.”
Minnis says he hopes the benches will come back in the spring when the new design for the space is revealed.
“It makes the neighbourhood more inviting if there are places to sit,” he says.
There are plans for the Alexus to install wall sconces by the end of November to improve lighting, and the Bank of Montreal is investigating ways to improve lighting from its windows as a way to deter illicit activity and improve safety.
The Church St strip will change dramatically when the construction at Maple Leaf Gardens at Carlton St finishes later this year. The building will become a new source of pedestrian and retail activity when it reopens with a Loblaws, an LCBO store and the Ryerson athletic centre, meaning the strip won’t end abruptly at Alexander St as it does currently.