by Kathryn Hunt
A launch party by Toronto-based condo developer Urban Capital, held at the James Street Pub on July 10, was protested by a number of residents. It seems that Urban Capital’s marketing plan has struck a raw nerve.
Urban Capital is described on their website as “pioneers in introducing residential developments in previously industrial or warehouse districts, typically setting a trend that results in a flourishing new neighbourhood.”
Since purchasing property and beginning to build in the Bank/Gladstone area, the developer has made a concerted effort to rebrand the area, renaming it “South Central” in their promotional materials, from billboards to flyers.
For some residents, the renaming – which many claim was done without any consultation – is a step too far. “I won’t stomach a name change, and I won’t be pushed out; where are you, city, protecting the citizens?” wrote local author rob mclennan recently.
Members of Under Pressure, an anti-poverty group, coordinated a protest of the launch party, and around 70 people showed up outside the pub with signs, sidewalk chalk, pots and pans, and a megaphone. Although the protest was for the most part peaceful, Urban Capital’s promotional materials were thrown out onto the street, the fire alarm was pulled, and one protestor got inside the pub and close enough to Urban Capital developer David Wex to douse him with glitter before being removed by security.
“It’s not really about the renaming,” one of the members of Under Pressure said. “It’s more what the renaming represents. It’s like a loss of control over our own neighbourhood.” He noted that no one can force a new name on a neighbourhood, so what really bothers him is the idea that the developers can simply come in and redesign the area. He added, “If people can’t afford to live here, who cares what it’s called?”
“The City of Ottawa sponsored a Neighbourhood Study a couple of years ago,” he said, “and even then around 30 percent of the people in Centretown couldn’t afford to live here. And it’s only gotten worse since then, with more condos coming in.” Others at the protest also expressed concern about the lack of affordable rental units in the area.
Urban Capital, meanwhile, says that the new name is intended to create an atmosphere that will transform and energize the street. “We’re trying to give an area a cachet that everyone hopefully will buy into. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. I guess we’ll see,” Wex said in a recent interview.
The company’s promotion efforts for the area include an overview of local businesses, with short descriptions of each, highlighting independent as well as larger businesses to capture the character of the neighbourhood. And while the “South Central” name and logo are everywhere in the marketing, Wex seemed to back off on the new name when asked about it at the launch, telling one guest (who was there representing the Village) that if people felt strongly about it, the name on marketing materials could go back to Centretown.
Among the people gathered outside the South Central launch party, there was a nearly universal concern that the influx of condos would result in housing prices throughout the neighbhourhood rising, and poorer people, small businesses, and students being forced from the area.
Some also pointed out that there has already been a movement, by residents and business owners, to rebrand that part of Bank Street as “the Village,” recognizing the large number of GLBTQ businesses and residents in the area. The City officially unveiled rainbow signs identifying the area at the intersections of Somerset, James and Nepean Streets in 2011.
Although it is certainly not the only developer with property in the area, Urban Capital owns a large number of lots on Bank Street near Gladstone. Phase One, a 240-unit building constructed around the original brick facade of the Metropolitan Bible Church, is advertising units for sale, and another building, Phase Two, is going up nearby, and will have 140 units. Also planned for construction is a Phase 3, called “Hideaway,” which will be built behind the second building, between McLeod and Catherine.
Last February the developer also purchased the land on which the James Street Pub now stands, with the intention of building a nine-storey condo there, although according to the management of Heart & Crown Pubs, who own the James Street Pub, the restaurant will remain on the site in some form.
Despite the resistance shown on Tuesday, it’s clear the condos are here to stay, and the question now is whether the current and incoming residents will find a way to get along.
Under Pressure hopes to hold a public forum later in the summer, and partner with other community organizations to continue to advocate for affordable housing in the area.