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Belleville celebrates new look downtown

By Joseph Quigley [8] and Kate Shumakova [9]

BELLEVILLE – The city of Belleville celebrated the opening of the first part of the newly revitalized downtown on Thursday.

Approximately 150 people – residents, city staff, councillors and construction crews – gathered downtown on Front Street by the Empire Theatre [10] to mark the opening of the reconstructed street with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The construction was part of the downtown revitalization project [11], which aims to rejuvenate the entirety of Belleville’s downtown core over the next few years. This includes fixing sewers and reworking surface roads, sidewalks and lights. Planning for the project began in 2010 and was broken up into three different phases, with Phase 1 construction beginning in May.

The first phase of the project included parts of Station Street from Church Street to Pinnacle Street, and Front Street from Pinnacle to Victoria Avenue.

Mayor Taso Christopher spoke to the crowd and cut the ribbon to officially open the new Front Street.

Christopher said he was thankful for all of the community co-operation during the construction.

“You don’t know how much it means to us that we have the support – that collectively we got together as a community and we know that this is a need, we need to get these projects done. Thank you very much to everybody,” said Christopher to the crowd.

Mark Fluhrer, Belleville’s director of recreation, culture and community services, said he is happy to see Phase 1 of the project completed after all the work put into it.

“It feels great. So many people are so happy to see it finally come to fruition. A lot of people have to see it completed before they actually see exactly what it is that we were trying to accomplish.  I think the people of this city will be very proud to be associated with this work,” said Fluhrer.

Karen Parker, executive director of the Belleville Downtown Improvement Area [12], an organization that promotes the downtown, said she thinks the revitalization can change people’s perceptions of the area for the better.

“I think that there is a negative perception of the downtown, and that’s all it is, a negative perception,” she said. “Having this city invest in the downtown will improve that perception.”

Ron Robertson, a retired teacher who lives in the Front Street construction area, said he thinks the crews did a good job helping residents throughout the project. Pedestrian access to the downtown remained open during the construction.

“I want to really thank (Lee Corcoran Excvating [13], the contractor for the project) for a first-rate job,” said Robertson. “Those guys are so organized – they’ve just been super. They’ve helped us all along, always knowing where we had to go.”

The project has come under recent city-council scrutiny [14] after the costs for Phase 1 came in. Originally, $21 million was budgeted for all three phases of the project. Higher-than-expected construction costs have city staff estimating that an additional $10 million will be needed to complete the next two phases of the project.

Fluhrer says he hopes that seeing a finished product will make people supportive of the next phases of the construction.

“I think this will hopefully have a positive impact in terms of perception. I hope it has a positive impact in terms of people’s commitment to the next phases,” he said. “But it will ultimately be the decision of this community through council to decide whether to move all the way through or not.”

Coun. Jackie Denyes said she thinks people generally support the project.

The costs have “been the topic of discussion in our council chambers. But for the most part, people want to see this project done,” she said. “It’s a necessary project. We have infrastructure that needs to connect North Front (Street) with Dundas Street, and the only way to do that is to have this project complete.”

Christopher said that the project is vital and that the city is behind completing the next stages.

“We’re committed. Phase 1 has been a successful project. You need to remember one thing: the most important thing is the infrastructure component of the project. Those are the types of necessities that we have to execute. And we’ll go forward with Phase 2.”

The city is in the process of gathering bids for work on Phase 2 of the project, which will continue construction along Front Street from Victoria Avenue to Bridge Street, including portions of Victoria and Campbell Street. Tenders are expected to come in early next year, with construction beginning in spring if a tender is approved.