Victoria staff submit Centennial Square redesign report

Victoria staff submit Centennial Square redesign report
CHEK

Victoria city staff have submitted their report into a sweeping redesign of Centennial Square, which will be considered at a committee of the whole meeting on Thursday, July 4.

Standouts from the report include moving the central fountain of the square to a new pond area at the east end of Centennial Square, towards Douglas Street, and replacing three trees in the area with 17 new trees that are more “appropriate for the urban location.”

City staff say moving the fountain would offer a chance to repair the monoliths that stand in the centre of the display – something that’s difficult to achieve in the current layout – and open up the centre of the square for better sightlines, accessibility and flow.

“We care about downtown, we want to revitalize downtown and get people back,” Matt Dell, Victoria councillor, told CHEK News.

Meanwhile, the large sequoia tree at the eastern edge of the square would be removed, as well as the sweetgum tree outside city hall and a nearby cherry tree.

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The sequoia tree and sweetgum trees are pictured in the Victoria city staff report submitted on June 21, 2024, for the committee of the whole meeting on July 4, 2024. (City of Victoria)

City staff say the trees are damaging infrastructure and have the potential to impact further infrastructure if they are not removed.

“The shallow rooting of the trees has led to damage of adjacent infrastructure, including heaving and cracked pavement, which has caused safety issues,” the staff report reads.

“The sequoia and sweetgum’s root systems are also in very close proximity to an underground BC Hydro duct as well as other underground utilities, including a water main, stormwater infrastructure and telecom lines.”

Instead, the trees would be replaced with 17 other trees that are strategically placed away from underground infrastructure, and that will use root barrier systems.

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What’s new?

City staff say the priorities for the Centennial Square redesign are creating a welcoming and accessible environment, expanding its capacity to host events, and renewing or replacing aging infrastructure.

Staff recommend dividing the square into roughly three zones, with the central part of the square being called the “Home” or “Heart” – where the fountain is currently located, followed by the eastern section of the square being called the “front yard,” facing Douglas Street – and the western side towards Chinatown being described as the “backyard.”

In the “Heart” section, plans call for a new interactive water feature where kids can play in the warmer months, as well as a year-round space for vendors and events.

“They’re proposing a coffee kiosk in there where people can grab a coffee or grab some food, lots more tables, and then the big one is obviously moving parts of the water fountain and building a ground source splash pad there so in the summer kids and families can actually go down there, enjoy and be in the square,” Dell explained.

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A rendering from the Victoria city staff report submitted on June 21, 2024, for the committee of the whole meeting on July 4, 2024 is shown. (City of Victoria)

There would be new power and water connections to make it easier to host markets or events, and the current performance zone next to the McPherson Theatre would be repurposed for “much-needed” storage and event staging space.

A new performance stage would be set up at the eastern edge of the plaza, according to the staff report.

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(City of Victoria)

The eastern edge of the plaza, or “front yard” area, would be designed to be a “formal” urban entrance to the square that is welcoming and has greenery.

Meanwhile, the western side of the square is described as “cozy” and relaxing, with grass and passive recreation activities.

The city hall undercroft would continue to serve as a bike valet space, with some minor additions.

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(City of Victoria)

$11.3M price tag

City council had already earmarked $11.3 million for the redesign project through its 2024-2028 financial plan, plus an additional $750,000 for design and engineering work.

If the recommended plan is approved Thursday, city staff say the first phase of the project – which encompasses the centre of the square to Douglas Street – could begin as early as 2025 and wrap up in late 2026.

The second phase, which would cover the western side of the square, would then begin mid-2027 and be completed by early 2028.

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(City of Victoria)

Council had previously directed staff to look at redesigning the square in 2019, but plans were stalled because of the pandemic.

The redesign plan came back before staff in 2023, and staff completed a “robust” round of engagement, including 1,500 responses through pop-up events and online surveys, 20 stakeholder group meetings, and 12 design reviews.

Not everyone has been in favour of revamping the square, however.

A group called the Friends of Centennial Square has been vocal in its opposition to moving the fountain and monoliths.

While the proposed plans will see the monoliths moved, the fountain would be replaced with the interactive water feature.

Chris Gower, a member of Friends of Centennial Square, said the group knew the square needed some restoration work but hoped that the fountain would remain where it is.

“I think [the design] is really omitting the opportunity to draw from the history of the square and maintain historic elements of the square,” Gower said. “Particularly the geometric radio plan of the square that is part of it’s signature and identity, and also the fountain which is a beautiful centerpiece.”

RELATED: Victoria selects firm to revamp Centennial Square as group continues to protect fountain

Gower adds the fountain is the hub of the square where people gather and hold celebrations or events.

However, Dell argues that’s not the case. He said the fountain actually makes it very difficult to hold events as it takes up space, adding the ground splash pad is exciting as it can be turned off to host events.

“We can use the entire square for public markets, food trucks, we can lay out temporary tennis courts or pickleball courts in there, or you can have big yoga studios, you can have kids activities, ” Dell said. “It makes it more of a flexible space.”

Gower hopes council will not approve this report on Thursday and instead look at more options, do more public consultation and ultimately keep the fountain where it currently is.

Centennial Square was built in 1964 to mark Victoria’s 100th year as a city.

SEE ALSO: Crystal Pool referendum on borrowing up to $169M receives green light

With files from CHEK’s Mackenzie Read

Adam ChanAdam Chan

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