Free parking at Lansdowne – two cases
By Ali A. Ramezani
Cineplex Cinemas Lansdowne: Declining demand for free parking
Cineplex is among the most recent commercial additions to Lansdowne, having opened a 50,000-square-foot cinema in late March of this year. Cineplex is one of a select few Lansdowne businesses offering free (validated) underground parking. The parking situation at Lansdowne Cineplex makes it a unique case among more than the 160 theatres Cineplex operates in all 10 Canadian provinces. Customers who book online are duly advised that the ticket purchase entitles them to free parking.
Walk-in customers wishing to buy their ticket at the box office are advised through sign boards (and the staff at cash registers) of their entitlement, though for some customers this offer may come too late – unless of course they are already familiar with this cinema. Parking usage for Cineplex initially began at around 70 per cent, but has since dropped substantially, according to Peter Blum, Cineplex Cinemas Lansdowne’s General Manager. While Blum could not provide any statistics for recent parking usage, he described an exceptional recent circumstance. This was during the mid-June showing of jurassic World, which opened to record worldwide sales. For Lansdowne Cineplex, this translated into 2,600 attendees in a single day, resulting in a spillover of its 200 expected daily parking quota.
It is indeed puzzling that free customer parking is not being taken advantage of. Does it have to do with the demographics of Cineplex clients (teenagers and young adults who do not typically own or drive a car)? Is it to do with ongoing declining attendance at movie theatres across North America? Or is it because clients are taking a pass on free parking by using public transport? Short of conducting a scientific users’ survey we will never know.
Whole Foods Market: Learning to live with big events
Whole Foods Market at Lansdowne offers 90 minutes of free parking with a minimum purchase of $25.” Of all the Whole Foods Market stores in Ontario, only Lansdowne’s store includes any information on parking matters. Staff at Lansdowne’s Whole Foods Market do not benefit from free parking.
Whole Foods Market in Lansdowne is one of the six stores the American company operates in Ontario. Lisa Slater, the store’s General Manager, has worked in four of those stores. She asserts that each store has its own parking peculiarities. The Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) and the City are still trying to improve the traffic and parking issues stemming from games and special events, according to Slater. Both Slater and Cineplex’s Blum agreed that the layout of the underground parking is not user-friendly. Fortunately, there seems to be a major signage and layout redesign of the underground parking underway to address the present confusing layout that makes entering and exiting taxing for many customers.
Furthermore, Redblacks games and other big-crowd events continue to present additional challenges, resulting in, for example, rerouting Whole Foods Market shoppers to enter via the Queen Elizabeth Driveway parking entrance. This is a communication challenge, according to Slater, since visitors to Lansdowne are not always abreast of traffic problems prior to arrival and during crucial hours of big events. OSEG is currently considering alerting Lansdowne customers, during big events, about alternative parking entrances via its electronic signboard on Bank Street.
Slater, who lives in the neighbourhood and doesn’t own a car, considers parking issues and traffic as minor inconveniences for her customers and one that all the Glebe businesses share, as they all rely, in part, on customers from outside the neighbourhood. She would like to see more non-Glebe customers using public transportation and bikes, a situation over which, she understands, individual businesses have little or no control. Slater, too, could not provide statistics on the quantity of parking validations they issue or the percentage of her customers who do not require parking.
Optimizing use of scarce parking
As the cases of both Cineplex and Whole Foods Market illustrate, it would certainly help to know more about the rate of parking usage and peak usage times for those businesses that offer free parking. Those of the newly occupied condo tower residents who are tenants do not have parking privileges, thereby adding to parking scarcity in the Glebe. We have a problem if the underground parking remains underutilized for much of the time outside of Redblacks games. We don’t actually know its utilization rates, and parking on the adjacent
streets continues to present difficulties.
Ali A. Ramezani is a member of the Glebe Community Association’s Traffic Committee.
Lansdowne Farmers’ Market in 2015
The Lansdowne Farmers’ Market opened to instant success in July 2006. Soon it became a major player alongside the other big farmers’ markets in Ottawa that have predated it by decades. This rapid rise is all the more astounding in light of the fact that there are no resellers allowed in Lansdowne. All vendors – now approximately 100 – are themselves local farmers or sell exclusively local produce, something that differentiates it from both the Byward and Parkdale markets.
During Lansdowne’s construction, the Farmers’ Market moved to Brewer Park in Ottawa South and there too it was an instant success, to the point that some vendors wondered whether they wanted to come back to the Glebe. It turns out that was not an option. The City had permitted the move only during the construction. But the return to the Glebe has been challenging, to say the least. For one thing, the market has lost many of its old and loyal customers. This partly explains a decline in sales in comparison with previous years.
Andy Terauds, proprietor of Acorn Creek Garden Farm and a principal founder of the Lansdowne Farmers’ Market, describes with sadness the awkward and difficult situation they faced in maintaining a neutral stance in the dispute that first erupted in 2010 between the developer and the City on the one hand and those Glebe residents who opposed the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) plan on the other.
While the new Farmers’ Market at Lansdowne has been welcomed by a new crowd and a slightly different clientele, it would indeed be sad to think that the Farmers’ Market is being punished for the bitter feelings Glebe residents have retained from Lansdowne’s redevelopment experience. Terauds considers himself and his co-vendors as local farmers who contribute to our local economy by employing locally, thus contributing to the livelihoods of many families in our region. It is this fact that may make some produce slightly more expensive than at other markets in the city.
Secondly, the Farmer’s Market, upon its return, lost its free customer parking privileges, a disadvantage in terms of competition with its two older rivals that offer some kind of free – though limited in time – parking. The situation is by far more difficult for the vendors themselves. There are no provisions for vendors’ trucks and vehicles. Initially, the City offered them free parking at South Keys. This meant they would have to drive to Lansdowne and, after unloading, leave their produce unattended, drive to South Keys and take the bus back to the Market. And repeat this bizarre routine in the afternoon. The City is still working on some kind of solution.
One vendor I talked to said that her husband drives their truck back to the farm after unloading. But according to the new regulations, he cannot come back to join her or pick her up and reload the tables before 6 p.m. An option is to use the underground parking at $20 per car. Any wonder the prices are higher at the Lansdowne market or that sales are in decline? According to the Ottawa Citizen, the Main Street Farmers’ Market too is currently struggling with declining sales, in part blamed on the absence of free parking.
As for customers, many inevitably park in neighbouring streets in the Glebe. In the meantime, says Terauds, the vendors do what they can to encourage those who come from far away and cannot use public transportation to use the Queen Elizabeth Driveway entrance to the underground parking. Doing so, he says, brings you as close as possible to the Market at a cost of $1.50 for the half-hour that it takes a typical customer to stroll around, pick up his or her produce and walk back to the car.
Terauds observes that people in general don’t like to pay for parking and all things being equal, they will go where they can park at no cost. People who shop at farmers’ markets are different from those who, for example, attend sports events or shop for clothes, in that they often have to carry heavy and awkward items such as plants and baskets of fruit that impede their ability to bike or use public transportation.
Farmers’ markets have enjoyed a revival in recent years that not many foresaw in the mid-nineties when I first moved to Ottawa. This new popularity came about from an increased awareness of foods (local foods in particular), nutrition and an aversion to the chemicals associated with processed food. We have come a long way, but there are powerful forces at work. The competition in the food industry is now fiercer by far with the arrival of American giants like Walmart and Whole Foods Market, with deep pockets and bargaining power.
This makes local farmers more vulnerable. It would be a sad day if we lost the Lansdowne Farmers’ Market because of a lack of action on the part of the City vis-à-vis the new parking woes, or because of unresolved feelings from the opposition of Glebe residents during the Lansdowne development saga.
Ali A. Ramezani is a member of the Glebe Community Association’s Traffic Committee.