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UPDATE: Councillor invites community suggestions for Church-Alexander space

New Bixi stand will replace benches through the winter

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam wants a revitalization of the Church-Alexander corner to be part of a grander makeover of the Church St strip. Credit: Rob Salerno

The city councillor responsible for the Church-Wellesley Village is inviting residents to contribute to a new plan for the popular hangout at the corner of Church and Alexander streets following outcry over the removal of four benches from the sidewalk there.

The benches belonged to the condo at 70 Alexander St, although they were on the public right-of-way. They were removed by Greenwin Property Management, which manages the retail properties along the Church St side of the building, following complaints by residents of criminal activity and violence on the corner. 
Greenwin refused to comment for this story.
For the winter, the corner will become home to one of eight Bixi locations that are being moved from city streets to accommodate snowplowing. The Bixi station will be moved out again at the end of the season.

The condo building is also adding wall sconces facing Alexander St on Nov 25 to improve lighting near its entrance.

Ward 27 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam says she wants the corner to be inviting and welcoming and is asking residents and community members to contribute ideas for what they’d like in the space. A working group will be formally launched in early 2012 to discuss ideas, and it will be open to community members to join. Wong-Tam wants the corner to be incorporated into a larger Church St beautification plan.
Wong-Tam has already heard some suggestions for the space, including a community garden, more lights, bringing back the benches, and adding tables that pedestrians can gather around.
“If a space is beautiful, that’s something that would hopefully deter illegal activity,” Wong-Tam says. “I’m not against the cruising; that’s always welcome on Church St.”
One idea Wong-Tam is floating is to ask the Bank of Montreal to open its windows that face onto the street to bring more light and eyes to the corner.
“When BodyBodyWear and American Apparel were there, they had window displays there and they had opened up their windows to the street. When Bank of Montreal moved in, they turned their back to the street with screening on the windows,” she says. “I really think that’s when we started to see an additional escalation of problems.”
A spokesperson for Bank of Montreal confirmed that the branch is working on ways to improve its exterior lighting but couldn’t comment on what specific changes it would make.
Any further changes to the street are not budgeted for by the city, the local BIA, or any of the private businesses or condo corporations, Wong-Tam says.
“No one has identified that there should be money to improve that corner. That’s also something that I as a local councillor have to find the money and allocate that to the space,” she says.
Wong-Tam says that once she has a plan from the community, she’s confident she’ll be able to raise interest from private stakeholders and the city to pay for it. She cites private involvement in the redevelopment of the Bay-Davenport intersection and money she’s raised for pedestrian improvements to downtown Yonge St as examples of securing money for business-led public-space improvements.

Since launching her vision of widened sidewalks and reduced auto traffic on Yonge St between Dundas and Gerrard in June, Wong-Tam says she’s raised $1.8 million in commitments from businesses toward the project.

“We can’t put in something that’s just generic,” she says. “We have to incorporate history and make it green and welcoming. Wouldn’t that have more value than just four benches or a Bixi station? That’s the challenge, and it’s actually a very exciting challenge.”